A big Heartland-based distributor of refrigerated foods appears to be looking to expand to the Charleston area.

Omaha, Neb.-based Millard Refrigerated Services recently spent $3.3 million to buy almost 22 acres in the rapidly developing Palmetto Commerce Parkway area, according to Charleston County property records.

The Chippendale Lane site is served by a rail line.

Tim Smith, Millardís senior vice president of sales and marketing, did not respond to requests for comment this week about the plans for the property. Smith was in Charleston in September to moderate a session on export opportunities and challenges at the S.C. International Trade Conference.

Millard Refrigeration is a family-owned company founded in Omaha in 1963. It owns three dozen distribution centers spread across North America, including a 247,000-square-foot facility in Gaffney, according to its website.

The company bills itself as the second-largest refrigerated warehouse and distribution company in the nation. It provides cold storage warehousing and transportation, including high pressure pasteurization and import and export assistance, according to its website.

Its North Charleston land purchase comes as the State Ports Authority is actively courting Midwest-based shippers of agriculture goods to increase the volume of Asian trade that will flow through an expanded Panama Canal in the next few years, agency officials have said.

Port officials have said overseas demand is boosting exports, particularly commodities.

Jim Newsome, the SPAís chief executive officer, said last month that the port has been seeing a rise in outbound shipments of agricultural products and refrigerated cargo.

The agency this year hired a Chicago-based vice president for global account sales and added infrastructure, such as three transloading operations where grains are transferred to containers for shipping.

SPA spokeswoman Allison Skipper declined to say whether the port is involved in the Millard deal. Steve Dykes, Charleston Countyís economic development director, did not respond to a request for comment.

Millardís purchase comes on the heels of another agricultural distribution deal for the Lowcountry.

Last month, Crescent Dairy & Beverages announced plans to invest about $30 million dollars on a 100,000-square-foot building in the Colleton County Commerce Center along U.S. Interstate 95.

The company, which plans to start beverage production in mid-2013, chose the location partly because of the proximity to major highways and the Port of Charleston.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.