Dubai company buys Orangeburg acreage
Proposed hub could mean estimated 8,000-plus jobs
A Dubai-based company acquired a large expanse of land Tuesday in one of South Carolina's poorest and most economically depressed areas, where it is proposing to build a massive warehouse and transportation hub.
The project by Jafza International could generate an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 jobs for Orangeburg County and require $600 million to $800 million to complete.
Terms of the sale of the 1,322-acre parcel near Santee to Jafza International by Charleston-based Carolina Linkages were not disclosed. In a statement, Jafza's managing director, Chuck Heath, said the "initial planning process is now under way for establishing a world-class logistics and business park on the site."
The property is at Interstate 95 and S.C. Highway 301, slightly more than an hour's drive from the Port of Charleston, which was considered to be one of the key attractions for Jafza. Also, it's about two hours from the Port of Savannah, minutes from Interstate 26 and close to the two major interstates that link the Midlands with Atlanta and Charlotte. In addition, the property has rail access.
"We think Orangeburg has the potential to become a major logistical hub in the United States," Heath said.
Few details about the United Arab Emirates-based company's plans were available Tuesday. Jafza International, a unit of the Dubai World, said it is in talks with "public officials and are negotiating a set of mutual commitments between the company and county, state and federal bodies."
"Once these and other preliminary hurdles are passed, Jafza engineers will work with local consultants to produce the project's definitive budget, timeline and a business plan," the company said.
It also said it plans to meet with "key stakeholders" in the next few weeks "to understand their goals and concerns during this initial planning phase."
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Democrat whose district includes Orangeburg, has already voiced support for the project, which will require federal money for a new interchange near the site.
Tuesday's sale marks the end of CaroLinks' involvement in the property. The company originally proposed to create a $250 million inland port at the site to help relieve port-related congestion in Charleston. It revised its plans twice, ultimately deciding to develop an industrial park on the tract before deciding to sell Jafza all of its interests in the land, including purchase options.
Lucy Duncan Scheman, president and chief executive of CaroLinks, said in a statement Tuesday that the deal "confirms our initial projections that the Santee corridor along I-95 would become a major transportation center for the Southeast."
Duncan Scheman said her firm plans to pursue other unrelated projects in the logistics and security industries.
Gregg Robinson, Orangeburg County's top economic development official, could not be reached for comment.
The Jafza deal has stirred up a frenzy of speculation in and around Orangeburg in recent weeks. At a public forum in Santee on Monday, some residents raised concerns, such as the impact such a huge project would have on the mostly rural area, according to the Times and Democrat newspaper. Others voiced support for the sorely needed jobs Jafza would create.
The project would take as many as 20 years to complete. It would likely be a economic boon for Orangeburg, where about 10 percent of the labor force is unemployed, giving it one of the highest jobless rates in the state. Also, Orangeburg is ranked 10th in the nation for the percentage of people living in poverty, based on the latest U.S. Census figures for counties 65,000 and larger.
Whether the Jafza project poses a competitive threat to large port-driven developments just down the highway in Charleston is up for debate.
Some real estate brokers feel that many transportation businesses still prefer to be as close to the local container terminals as they can, which is what investors like Hillwood are betting on. The Texas-based real estate firm led by Ross Perot Jr. is proposing to add more than 9 million square feet of warehouse and manufacturing space along I-26 near Jedburg. That project would likely compete directly with the Jafza site.
Bob Barrineau, a commercial broker with CB/Richard Ellis Carmody, said the Orangeburg development could complement the maritime industry in Charleston by giving port users more options. He noted that retailers and other shippers that traditionally sent most of their Asia-made goods through the West Coast are sending more of their containers to the East Coast.
"They aren't putting all their eggs in one basket anymore," Barrineau said.
Katy Stech of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.