Friday, January 30, 2009

Firm to conduct analysis of Santee's administration

T&D Correspondent Friday, January 30, 2009

SANTEE -- A firm recently hired to provide administrative services for Santee will conduct a startup analysis of the town before it begins its duties.

At a special called meeting Tuesday night, council met behind closed doors for nearly two hours to discuss contractual matters with attorney William Johnson, as well as state Rep. Garry Smith and Jason Purvis of Burkhold Smith Planning & Management. Council recently hired Burkhold Smith to provide administrative services.

On Tuesday, council unanimously approved a motion to, "authorize the Mayor to execute a contract with Burkhold Smith Planning & Management for a 'startup analysis' for the Town of Santee."

Smith, a partner in the firm, and project manager Jason Purvis will, "look at the complete structure, as well as the systems and processes of the town and do an analysis," Smith said.

Smith said the analysis will consist of a detailed review of items such as personnel policies, job descriptions, zoning ordinances, comprehensive planning and finances.

He said he most recently reviewed the town's audits covering the past four fiscal years.

Smith said the firm plans to present some recommendations as early as the next council meeting, slated for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Santee Town Hall.

In a letter to Mayor Silas Seabrooks earlier this month, the firm proposed to work five days a week for the town at a rate of $55 per hour.

At the Jan. 13 meeting, Seabrooks cast the only vote against hiring the firm, saying the town can't afford it.

For now, the firm is working in a consulting capacity for the town.

Smith said, "Right now we're consultants to do an analysis of the town. Once that's complete, we'll decide where to go from there."

T&D Correspondent Martha Rose Brown can be reached by e-mail at Discuss this and other stories online at

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New eco-friendly Orangeburg warehouse

From the Charleston City Paper website:

By Dan McCue

When construction begins on the $600 million Jafza International site in Orangeburg County, warehouse space and new jobs will be in plentiful supply. And so will green innovations as Jafza South Carolina enters the delicate dance of balancing economic development with preserving and enhancing quality of life.

Jafza's parent company also owns Gazeley, a leader in sustainable warehouse developments based in the United Kingdom. During the unveiling of Jafza's master plan for the project last fall, Steven Eames, vice president of operations for Jafza Americas, said Gazeley will bring "unmatched efficiencies" to the 1,324-acre Orangeburg project.

"This project will be sustainable, in terms of its impact on the surrounding communities. It will be green, and it will be a model for us going forward," Eames said.

Gazeley's green initiatives at other projects have included the use of solar panels and wind turbines for energy production, and innovative approaches to stormwater collection.

Speaking from London recently, Jonathan Fenton-Jones, Gazeley's global procurement and sustainability director, stressed that the group's role on the Orangeburg site hasn't been ironed out.

"In our view, wherever we work, the site was there a long time before we were, and it is going to be there a long time after we're gone," Fenton-Jones says.

On one recent project, the company installed kinetic plates at the facility's gates that generate electricity whenever trucks drive over them. So much power is generated that the client is able to power a fleet of on-site electric vehicles.

Another project includes a biomass plant that generates enough electricity to power not just the warehouse development, but also 31,000 adjacent dwellings.

"So we're fostering economic growth at the warehouse, while also achieving another end: Providing green-generated power to a community at rates less than they would pay for off the grid," he says.

Sustainability has been a core value of the company from its very beginning, but Fenton-Jones says no one with the company in the late 1980s would have guessed that they'd be a vanguard of a worldwide green movement.

"We just did what we did, and acted on our affinity for the natural environment," he says. "Broadly, they would be called bioremediation strategies: We employed reed beds to clean up disposed waste water from sites. Over the years we've probably planted a million trees."

As the green movement gains currency, major corporations across the globe have been essentially forced to adopt their own responsible practices by their customers.

"As a result, that makes it virtually impossible these days to build a warehouse and not do something in regard to its green profile," he says.

When it comes to employing green approaches to developments like Jafza's South Carolina project, the real opportunities are in building to suit a particular client, rather than speculative buildings — or those that would serve a variety of uses, says Fenton-Jones.

"With a spec building, you don't know who the client is, so you're concentrating on the foundation and the walls, and while there are opportunities there in terms of planning and materials, the real opportunities for green savings are the occupational phase, when you're talking about lighting, heating, air channeling, and taking advantage of the particulars of the climate and the like," he says.

Proponents of sustainable construction in South Carolina are excited about the green possibilities that the Jafza project will bring to the state.

"The impact of green business and logistics parks in South Carolina is that environmentally-conscious businesses will be able to consider moving to our state," says Bin Wilcenski, chief operating officer at the Home Builders Association of Greater Columbia.

Rene Patey, program manager at the Sustainability Institute, a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to create more sustainable homes and facilities, says there's nothing to compare to the potential at the Orangeburg site during the two-decade construction.

"It is a spectacular innovation in terms of engaging the movement to green," Patey says. "Once the option is out there ... more South Carolina companies engaged in trade are going to be requesting those services because it's good for their business and corporate image."

Miller-Valentine chooses Global Logistics Triangle as priority for development

By BETSY HARTER Monday, January 26, 2009

From Port Charleston, a publication of the S.C. State Ports Authority

A new 150,000-square-foot industrial spec building, expandable to 300,000 square feet, has opened in Orangeburg County, bringing multitenant Class A industrial warehouse and manufacturing space to an increasingly popular area.

Located in the Orangeburg County/City Industrial Park, 348 Millennium Drive, it is situated in what has become known as the Global Logistics Triangle formed by I-95, I-26 and U.S. 301. The facility was developed and built by commercial real estate giant Miller-Valentine Group.

Miller-Valentine chose the Orangeburg area for its most recent industrial development for several reasons: a high demand for Class-A multitenant facilities, a concentration of industrial businesses that already reside in Orangeburg and the appeal of the Global Logistics Triangle, which offers proximity to major highways, ports and an excellent labor force.

“Historically, our company focuses on providing well-located industrial tilt-up multitenant buildings in successful markets,” said Kevin Werner, a partner with Millerp-Valentine. “We want to be around industry and other economic pillars. We know that the Port of Charleston is one of those economic generators that can support our mission.”

With 10 million square feet of commercial properties throughout the United States, Miller-Valentine certainly understands the importance of location. Situated midway between New York and Miami, Orangeburg County is also home to a new global logistics hub being created by Jafza International.

“We selected Orangeburg, and specifically Orangeburg County Industrial Park, because it is well located with convenient access to highway systems, offering easy ingress and egress,” said Dale Stigamier, the developer heading up the project for Miller-Valentine. “A few significant companies, such as Allied Air and Dana Corp., have been successful in this park, so we became comfortable with it quickly.”

Just one hour to the Port of Charleston, the area also boasts excellent interstate and rail access. Werner noted that cargo must be put on a trailer when it exits the ship, whether it is going to a distribution facility a couple miles away, or further up to Orangeburg.

“We believe Orangeburg is a lynchpin -- the center point of distribution -- because from here companies can instantaneously go north, south, east or west and cover a good portion of the Southeast from their back yard.”

Miller-Valentine’s new 250’ x 600’ tilt-up concrete facility offers clear heights of 28’ to 32.5’. Able to service companies from 25,200 SF to 150,000 SF, the building has 40’ X 40’ bay spacing and 40’ x 50’ dock bay spacing. Miller-Valentine is offering the building for warehouse or manufacturing use, with the option to lease or purchase.

“We have designed this facility to be as flexible as possible to accommodate the majority of tenants, not the minority,” Stigamier said.

Formed in 1963, Miller-Valentine got its start in heavy construction, including highway and bridge work. As the popularity of tilt-up construction buildings grew in the 1970s, Miller-Valentine became known as “The Tilt-up Kings” during these years. In fact, the company pioneered the Con/Steel Building System, a nationally franchised system that combines the tilt-up construction process with innovative design, construction and management techniques to produce high-value tilt-up structures.

Although this experience gave Miller-Valentine a competitive edge in the construction business, the company’s leaders formed a development organization in order to diversify and become a full-service real estate provider.

“Our business blossomed in the 1970s, and today we have grown it to include a real estate portfolio totaling nearly 20 million square feet of commercial and multifamily properties,” Werner said. “The lion’s share is industrial-driven, but we do have a diverse portfolio, including 8,000 residential units in all forms that we lease to the marketplace.”

Today, Miller-Valentine also offers services in: development, design, renovation, property management, and realty, providing customers with total real estate solutions for more than 50 million square feet of space in a variety of industries. Its wide range of commercial and residential facilities span health care, senior living, educational facilities, office, mixed use, municipal, industrial, distribution and manufacturing. The company provides housing for students, military personnel, and single and multifamily. Other services include historical renovations, exterior and interior renovations, additions and expansions.

Headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, Miller Valentine employs 850 people throughout both its construction and development organizations. The company has commercial offices in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Columbia, as well as a handful of other offices that manage residential facilities in North Carolina, Michigan and Indiana.

Stigamier said Miller-Valentine strategically hired Colliers Keenan to market the Orangeburg facility because of the company’s broad reach in both the state and the country.

“Colliers Keenan touches more end users than anyone else in brokerage market. They know our product well and the customers even better,” Werner said. “They do business with distribution companies and manufacturers that look a lot like the ones we are targeting in Orangeburg.”

Hagood Morrison, a broker with Colliers Keenan’s Charleston office, believes 348 Millennium Drive will be successful for a variety of reasons.

“There are many companies and people in Orangeburg, and this facility gives them the opportunity to stay there,” Morrison said. “We are excited to join with Miller-Valentine to be part of the anticipated growth of the Port of Charleston, and we are happy to combine our manufacturing and distribution expertise with our port-related knowledge to help this facility find success.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Case for Infrastructure Investment

Officials in many U.S. locations are beginning to see the financial rewards of long-term investment in infrastructure — including attracting new business and potentially improving the national economy.

By Mark Crawford (Dec/Jan 09)
It can be seen everywhere as you drive across America — outdated or crumbling infrastructure. Not only is it an eyesore and sometimes dangerous to public welfare — about 75,000 bridges in the U.S. are structurally deficient, for example — it’s a big negative to companies looking to relocate or expand.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the United States needs to invest nearly $2 trillion over the next five years to maintain and expand its infrastructure. “We’ve inherited a great 20th-century infrastructure, but it is the 21st century and our competitors — including developed regions like Europe and Japan and rising countries like China — invest far more than we do,” says Michael Lind, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and director of the American Infrastructure Initiative.

“From the site selection perspective, infrastructure is absolutely vital — it’s a very tall pole in the tent,” says Jim Colson, president of site selection for Angelou Economics in Austin, Texas. “To be competitive, cities must have modern infrastructure in place, or at least a very sound plan to deliver that infrastructure in a timely fashion, with all risk mitigated.”

Regarding existing infrastructure, “the big question is does it have enough capacity to reliably service the client?” says Buzz Canup, managing principal for Fluor Global Location Strategies in Greenville, South Carolina. “This includes water, sewer, electrical, highway, rail, etc. These almost always come into play and the absence of any one of them could cause a community to be eliminated from consideration.”

Committing to the Investment
Forward-thinking communities are being proactive in building modern infrastructure to bring in new companies. Cities that want to attract certain types of industry often put together an enticing package of infrastructure that is vital to that industry’s operations.

“For example, the semiconductor industry, particularly wafer fabricators, must have a great deal of water and many megawatts of totally reliable electric power,” says Bob Goforth, a partner with Leak-Goforth Company in Jacksonville, Florida. “On the other hand, a distribution center might not have strong requirements for water and sewer, but might need fiber optics and a good highway system.”

Asheboro, North Carolina, has been enjoying solid economic growth, thanks to two new interstates converging just north of town that provide better connections between North Carolina and South Carolina ports and markets in the upper Midwest. “These highways will definitely enhance our economic development,” says Bonnie Renfro, president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation. New businesses that have come to town include Malt-O-Meal and Rheem Manufacturing.

Asheboro and neighboring communities have joined forces to dam the Deep River and create a 6,000-acre reservoir to provide a larger water source for both public and industrial use. Related infrastructure improvements include new roads, bridges, dams, water transportation lines, and a water treatment plant. The total cost of about $60 million is shared by six local governments. “This new source of reliable water will be attractive to industries like food processing and data centers, that require large amounts of water,” says Renfro. Norfolk Southern is also upgrading its rail lines to provide more capacity for the manufacturers in the area.

Other cities investing in infrastructure improvements include Lexington, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee. “The city of Lexington has agreed to construct a new electrical substation for one of our clients, who needs to have segregated power,” says King White, president of the Site Selection Group in Dallas, Texas. Clarksville has a megasite that will soon be the home for a $1.1 billion industrial complex that will create 500 new jobs. Over six miles of gas, water, and sewer lines are being constructed with the help of grants from Tennessee’s FastTrack Infrastructure Development Program. The city has also built a nearby business park with a complete infrastructure package, including fiber optics.

“Tier 2 cities like Lexington are getting more attention from companies because they can compete well in terms of quality labor, lower labor costs, and lower land costs,” says White. “Adding quality infrastructure, usually funded through public–private partnerships, makes them highly competitive with bigger cities and even some overseas locations.”

One of these markets is Temple, Texas, which has invested $21 million in four “themed” industrial parks. “Rail Park is designed for distribution/logistics companies and provides easy rail access,” says Mary Poché, director of marketing for the Temple Economic Development Corporation. “Gulf States Toyota recently relocated here from Houston because the park provided everything they needed, including a rail spur we constructed to their site. We’re also working out details for installing a gas line.” Poché indicates Temple expects five major companies to break ground in 2009.

Strengthening Ports
Infrastructure upgrades are greatly needed at most U.S. ports, especially Los Angeles/Long Beach. “There are tremendous capacity constrictions at Los Angeles, including heavy congestion on the highways,” says Jack Boyd, president of the Boyd Company in Princeton, New Jersey. “There is also the very real threat of losing shipping business to Mexico’s Punta Colonet port, 115 miles south of Tijuana. This may be the largest infrastructure investment Mexico will ever make and could tip the center of gravity for distribution/logistics along the West Coast. L.A. ports must improve rail service, widen highways, and add more berths to stay competitive.”

“Port cities such as Savannah, Charleston, Mobile, Houston, and Norfolk are moving ahead on their own to improve their infrastructure, and not waiting for federal help,” says Ed McCallum, principal with McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, South Carolina. “With increased trade with Asia, bottlenecks on the West Coast, increased use of the Suez Canal and the expansion of the Panama Canal, they want to increase their capacity.”

The city of Mobile, Alabama, aggressively pursued the ThyssenKrupp Steel plant by building the infrastructure improvements the company required. “Infrastructure for steel mills and importation of raw material is crucial,” says Canup. “Alabama had a state referendum to win approval to divert oil and gas revenues into improving the Mobile ports. The difference between winning and losing the project was the infrastructure.” Among the improvements is the 380-acre Mobile Container Terminal, a $300 million facility that will have a 2,000-foot deepwater wharf, a container yard, an intermodal rail yard, and acreage designated for value-added distribution facilities. In 2010, when ThyssenKrupp starts operations, it will become Mobile County’s largest manufacturing employer.

Orangeburg County in South Carolina has seriously reached out to the manufacturing and logistics industries with the giant Global Logistics Triangle — a $600 million, 1,322-acre project that is designed to relieve pressure on Charleston’s ports. The Port of Charleston already handles nearly two million TEUs annually, and a new container terminal will increase that capacity by nearly 50 percent. “Advancement of the project is contingent upon delivery of the infrastructure,” says Gregg Robinson, executive director for the Orangeburg County Development Commission. The first phase — a $150 million to $200 million light assembly and distribution industrial park — is under construction. Infrastructure includes water, sewer, gas, electric, road access, and a one-million gallon elevated storage water tank. “At the same time, we are enhancing the capacity of the interstate access, interchanges, secondary roads, and rail access points,” says Robinson.

Jafza International, developer of Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone, acquired the Orangeburg County acreage with the goal of establishing a logistics and business park for light manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution facilities. Jafza hopes to leverage private investment of around twice that amount, as well as spur the creation of more than 8,000 jobs over the next decade. “The state has reliable power, sufficient labor, and quality infrastructure,” says Chuck Heath, managing director for Jafza International. “It’s actually quite close to the model we developed in Dubai. Chief criteria were global connectivity, market demand, land and development costs, and infrastructure/utility quality. We considered four sites in the Southeast U.S., and the final decision was based on the enthusiasm and cooperation of the authorities.”

Rail on the Rise
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the freight industry is expected to grow 67 percent by 2020. Not only is rail a safer and more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, but rising truck fuel costs are also making rail the most cost-effective method of shipping, increasing the need for infrastructure upgrades and more distribution centers.

Norfolk-Southern Railroad recently opened its new intermodal terminal near Rickenbacker Global Logistics Park in Columbus, Ohio, the first of three new Norfolk Southern terminals to be built as part of its Heartland Corridor Project, which improves the routes between Norfolk ports and distribution centers and Columbus and Chicago. Additional terminals are planned for Roanoke, Virginia, and Prichard, West Virginia.

CSX Corporation, another Class-1 railroad, spent $1.7 billion, or 15 percent of its 2007 revenues, on capital expenditure to meet future transportation needs. Over the next three years CSX says it is planning to spend $5 billion in infrastructure enhancements as part of its ambitious National Gateway project. Part of this money will include a $724 million public–private infrastructure initiative to create more efficient freight railroad links between Mid-Atlantic ports and the Midwest. The improvements will permit the use of double-stack containers, which will be able to move more of the increased cargo entering Mid-Atlantic ports, while saving fuel and cutting down on pollution. Construction will start in 2010 and includes expanding and adding new terminals and distribution points, raising overpasses and bridges, and blasting new tunnels. CSX is investing $362 million of its own money and expecting to receive matching federal and state funds.

Keeping Up With Competition
In an August 26, 2008 New York Times column, Thomas Friedman wrote about the startling contrast between this country’s infrastructure and what he saw when he attended the Olympics in Beijing: “When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.”

“There is a tremendous amount of substandard infrastructure in cities and towns across America,” says Colson. “These places cannot attract new development without new infrastructure, but they simply can’t afford to build it. This has led to the recent trend of cash-strapped communities turning to a growing number of private investment groups that pool investor money to fund infrastructure projects for better-than-market-rate returns.”
With a fierce global recession looming, many experts believe an aggressive effort to build new infrastructure will provide a long-term solution for economically reviving the country, and the world — and it is something that President-elect Barack Obama has said he will include in his economic stimulus package. “Right now, China is doing something just like this, investing about $700 billion to improve its infrastructure and stimulate the economy,” says Colson. “Like FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s, building infrastructure will create jobs, boost the economy, and help us compete on a global scale.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Amid recession, experience Progress '08

From the Times and Democrat

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The nation’s new leader tells us these are difficult times. “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood,” President Obama said in his inaugural address.

In The T&D Region, we know these are difficult days. The unemployment rate is more than a number. Lots of people are without work. Lots of people are living a tough existence.

BUT, our leaders and officials are not sitting on idle. They are pushing for progress – and finding success.

Chronicling the progress of the past 12 months is what today’s annual Times and Democrat Progress ’08 edition is all about. We’ve decided to note on the cover that you’ll be surprised at the level of progress in the region during a difficult year.

Inside you’ll find the stories and images that reveal just how much has been accomplished. For example:

• February ’08 – World Trade City announces it will locate a major business and logistics center in Orangeburg County.

• March – Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority begins sending methane gas from its landfill to power an industry. The United Way surpasses its goal.

• April – The Lake Marion Regional Water Authority turns on the tap and the new Starbucks plant in Calhoun County goes for “green” status. And thankfully, the contingent of S.C. National Guard personnel return from Afghanistan.

• May – Orangeburg unveils its new City Council Chambers in the renovated former fire station. It is called the finest such facility in the state. Zanzibar’s president visits and strengthens ties with South Carolina State University.

• June – S.C. State names a new president, Four Moons restaurant offers a new experience for Orangeburg diners and Community Bankshares announces a merger with First Citizens.

• July – Sunken barges are removed from Ballards Point at Lake Marion. Bamberg County gets a new industry in the former Holland Hitch facility.

• August – Claflin University gets a top ranking by Forbes magazine. County officials announce plans for an industrial park in western Orangeburg County.

• September – Branchville celebrates rebuilding of Branch Junction ahead of the Raylrode Daze Festivul. The junction and the town were devastated by a spring tornado.

• October – A memorial marker is dedicated in memory of the Rev. Daniel M. Minus at Sunnyside Park on Henley Street. The site is believed to be the home of the Colored Public School, which later became the Sterling School.

• November – Jafza provides details of its plans for a $600 million logistics/industrial park. The project has been called “transformational’ for Orangeburg County.

• December – Neeses gets a sheriff’s substation to serve the western portion of Orangeburg County.

• January 2009 – Greyhound makes improvements to the Orangeburg bus station. Bamberg joins other counties in an agreement to share developmental tax revenue.

Obama told the Washington crowd Tuesday the challenges faced by the nation will be met. There is no less commitment locally.

Toward that objective, we submit the region is looking at great opportunity, with particular emphasis on the Global Logistics Triangle bordered by Interstates 26 and 95, and U.S. Highway 301.

Betsy Harter of Port Charleston, a magazine of the South Carolina State Ports Authority, writes in today’s business report about Miller-Valentine Group’s new spec building in the Orangeburg County/City Industrial Park. In her report, she states what the giant commercial real estate company sees for the future:

“Miller-Valentine chose the Orangeburg area for its most recent industrial development for several reasons: a high demand for Class-A multitenant facilities; a concentration of industrial businesses that already reside in Orangeburg and the appeal of the Global Logistics Triangle, which offers close proximity to major highways, ports and an excellent labor force.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obama on Track to Win $350 Billion from Congress for Bailout

Realtors Reiterate Keys to Housing Recovery

By Steven Thomma and David Lightman

RISMEDIA, January 15, 2009-(MCT/RISMedia)-A week before taking office, President-elect Barack Obama worked Tuesday to ensure that he’ll have more than a trillion dollars at his disposal within weeks to shore up the still-sinking economy. He appeared on track to win a quick $350 billion down payment from Congress, with more to come later. Also Tuesday in other economic efforts, National Association of Realtors President Charles McMillan addressed the House Financial Services Committee, saying that in order to move the country out of this economic crisis, Congress and the next administration must place significant emphasis on restoring confidence in the housing market.

“The housing sector is at the core of the current economic crisis,” McMillan said. “A renewed, revitalized and robust housing market is essential to generating commerce and helping families build wealth.”

Obama, with top aides in tow, worked at what one aide called a continuing high-stakes effort to assure rapid congressional support for an unprecedented outpouring of money to reverse the country’s downward economic spiral.

First, he’s trying to convince Congress to let him have the second half of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package created last fall. Senate Democrats signaled afterward that, while they still have questions about how he’ll spend the money, they will give their OK this week so he can start tapping into the money within days of becoming president.

Second, he’s still working to convince lawmakers to approve a stimulus package that would allow him to spend upward of $800 billion over two years to create more than 3 million jobs, many of them in construction and manufacturing.

Democrats were hopeful that they could pass a bipartisan bill by mid-February, but they said that questions remained and the bill was still being negotiated. They said that Obama was willing to bargain, apparently ready to drop a proposed $3,000-per-job tax credit to businesses for jobs created or saved, for example, and to expand an energy tax credit.

“Did he close the deal? Well, he did a lot of closing today,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “There’s no better closer.”

The more pressing issue was Obama’s urgent request, formally made by President George W. Bush on his behalf, for the remaining $350 billion in the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Obama told Democrats that he will use the money differently from how Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson used the first half, a critically important offer to win over members of Congress who don’t think the first $350 billion was well spent or monitored.

Most notably, Obama said he’d focus more on helping homeowners avoid foreclosures, work more to help people get student loans and car loans, and make sure that the taxpayers’ money didn’t go to high salaries or bonuses for Wall Street executives.

Meanwhile, during McMillan’s testimony, he congratulated Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., on H.R. 384, the TARP Reform and Accountability Act, which was introduced last week. Many points in this bill reinforce NAR’s proposed recovery plan to stimulate housing investment, mitigate foreclosures, help current homeowners, and provide needed liquidity to commercial mortgage markets to ensure that financing is available.

The principle focus of NAR’s plan is to ensure that the Troubled Asset Relief Program does what it was originally intended to do - end the credit crisis and jumpstart mortgage lending. “It is imperative to get TARP back on track by targeting funds for mortgage relief, which will help lower mortgage rates and reduce foreclosures,” said McMillan. “In addition, eliminating the repayment feature of the first-time home buyer tax credit and expanding it to all home buyers; reinstating the higher mortgage loan limits for FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and lowering mortgage interest rates through a buy-down program will meaningfully impact the housing industry.”

“We are pleased that Congress is moving forward on these important issues. Together these actions will build a solid foundation for a housing recovery,” said McMillan.

NAR’s plan also includes keeping mortgage interest rates low, boosting home buyer confidence, and reducing the current foreclosure rate. NAR has also asked that regulators be encouraged to help financial institutions resolve problems in the short-sale process, make it easier for servicers to modify existing loans, remove unreasonable underwriting guidelines and insist that credit reporting agencies correct errors promptly.

“Low interest rates are only effective if people can get a loan. We hear every day from our members that even home buyers with good credit are having trouble getting mortgage loans. We must all work together to unclog the housing and financial system,” said McMillan.

NAR called on Congress to use current TARP dollars to not only reduce interest rates, but also fix operational issues that are preventing consumers from getting or modifying home loans. “These are critical steps that must be undertaken quickly if we are to right our nation’s housing and financial markets,” McMillan said.

NAR hailed the House of Representatives’ actions and called on the Senate to move quickly in adopting its proposal. NAR also expressed hope that the new administration will focus on a housing recovery as it moves forward with a larger stimulus package.

On Tuesday, the No. 2 official at the Federal Reserve also told Congress that it’s essential that Congress allow the second $350 billion to be spent. Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn also endorsed Obama’s idea of using some of the money to ward off more home foreclosures.

“Preventable foreclosures harm not only the affected borrowers and their communities but also, through their effects on the housing market, the broader economy and the financial system as well,” Kohn told the House Financial Services Committee.

While most Democrats at the lunch meeting welcomed the push against foreclosures and other changes, they told Obama that they want to see more details.

Obama, said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., “wants us to trust and verify, but I’m not sure yet what we’re supposed to verify.”

Republicans had similar thoughts: “Too general,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“The American people have a lot of questions about how additional funds would be used,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., his party’s leader in the Senate.

“The current administration used these funds for the auto industry, a move that I opposed,” he said. “Now congressional Democrats are urging more of the same. The American people still don’t have assurances that this money will not be wasted or misused to play favorites. So far, the incoming administration has not said whether it plans to limit funds to their original purpose or to expand their use to help specific industries.”

Obama spoke with McConnell on Monday, seeking broad bipartisan support even though he doesn’t need it. He planned to meet with other Senate Republicans later.

“We’ll be happy to listen,” McConnell said. “They’ll have a receptive albeit cautious audience.”

Ultimately, Obama doesn’t need much to get the money. Congress gave itself the power to block the second installment, but that would take majority votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate, both of which Democrats control.

© 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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Realtors call for property tax reform

By Mike Fitts
Published Jan. 14, 2009

The state’s new property assessment laws are unfair and are crippling the real estate sector, S.C. Realtors said Wednesday at the Statehouse.

The S.C. Realtors Association will be pushing this year to fix what it calls major problems with tax changes made in 2006, particularly the inequities caused by immediate reassessment of properties to their selling price and the different treatment of residential and commercial holdings.

Realtors Association CEO Nick Kremydas said the final shape of such a fix is still being crafted, with remedies from other states with similar laws, such as Florida, being examined. Too much business is being lost to rival states for the issue to wait for passage of a comprehensive tax reform plan, he said. “We created a competitive tax disadvantage in our tax code,” Kremydas said.

Kremydas said the immediate reassessment of a sold property to the selling price creates an unacceptable inequity. Two similar, adjacent properties can be paying much different property taxes because one sold recently, he said. Kremydas pointed to a recent survey by his group that found that 77% of those polled considered this unfair.

The group also hopes to give commercial and office properties the same tax advantages that were extended solely to homeowners. Kremydas said that commercial real estate is shouldering too much of the property tax burden and that it is an economic disincentive. Tax and millage rates will have to be changed while keeping a viable revenue flow for county governments, he said.

Leaders of the S.C. Realtors Association were flanked by supportive legislators, including some who work in the real estate industry. Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, a real estate attorney, described one transaction that fell through when the prospective buyers, from out of state, learned that they would be facing a $600,000 tax increase when the deal closed. They bought a similar property in Georgia instead, he said.

Rep. Dan Hamilton, R-Greenville, emphasized the importance of the real estate and housing industries to the state’s economy. Hamilton is the operating partner of Keller Williams Realty in Greenville.

“We can’t wait,” he said. “We need to get our economy on a sure footing.”

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New County Council chairman emphasizes teamwork

By PHIL SARATA, T&D Staff Writer Thursday, January 08, 2009

A 14-year veteran of Orangeburg County Council who describes his leadership style as “inclusive,” Johnnie L. Wright Sr. is a man who, by many accounts, desires to create win-win situations.

Wright says council works together as a team and, as its newest chairman, he wants to make sure that continues.

“I’ve always felt the working relationship between the members of council has been good, even during those times we have had our difference of opinions,” Wright said. “I can say with certainty that Orangeburg County Council doesn’t suffer from the divisiveness that I’ve witnessed from attending other conferences and events and viewing the council dynamics in other counties.

“I think that, at the end of the day, we are very united as a group.”

Wright said he intends to be very open and supportive of the county as a whole, adding that he wants to represent all the citizens of the county like his predecessor, Councilman Harry Wimberly. Council picked Wright, who has been chairman of the Lake Marion Regional Water Authority since 2001, to replace Wimberly as council chairman on a 4-3 vote Monday night.

“Harry absolutely did a marvelous job during a very difficult time for council,” Wright said. “He handled it well and was also very inclusive in his dealings. I consider him a friend. We have worked closely in the past, and I know that will continue.”

In the immediate future, Wright sees continued economic development as the top priority for the council.

“Of all the significant issues facing council, economic development is definitely at the top of the agenda because of the unemployment situation here in Orangeburg County and across the state,” he said. “Council realizes there is a lot of poverty. Our objective is to try and provide the best environment possible to attract good paying jobs for our citizens so the county can grow.”

“Another challenge is to provide adequate funding for the infrastructure improvement that is needed in a lot of places in the county,” Wright said. “I also see council indirectly supporting the educational structure so that our youth can be properly trained and prepared for new jobs when they arrive.”

Most of all, Wright wants to remember that as county council chairman for the next two years, he is merely a spokesperson who must represent the views of that body as honestly as possible.

“It’s a title only,” he said. “I see myself as a public servant who must represent and work with council for the public good. I want to always keep council abreast of everything that is happening and not make any decisions on my own. Sometimes complex situations arise where you know no matter what you do, someone won’t be satisfied. But I always try to do what is best for the majority.

“The main thing to remember is something I learned from my father. He said, ‘Never stop talking and always try to work it out.’ It’s all about teamwork, and everyone’s position in the process is vital.”

T&D Staff Writer Phil Sarata can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 803-533-5540. Discuss this and other stories at