March brings hope of growth and renewal in the South as winter slowly relinquishes its uneven grip.
The InterTech Group Inc. of North Charleston got an early jump on spring and took those upbeat themes to heart this month with three bullish business deals, at home and abroad.
The highlight reel included one of the company's biggest investments in its own backyard: Last week, the global conglomerate owned by the Zucker family marked the completion of the first 120,000-square-foot phase of a new factory where its TIGHITCO business will make aerospace parts.
About 20 new employees are in training to start up the North Charleston operation, but Jonathan Zucker, InterTech's president, stressed that's “just the beginning.”
The long-term plan is to invest $40 million, more than double the square footage and build a payroll of 350 workers at the plant on Palmetto Commerce Parkway.
“If we win all the business we're bidding on, we'll need it very soon,” he told The Post and Courier on Monday.
Meanwhile, InterTech cut another deal this month that gives it the option to double its long-held stake to 20 percent in an Upstate company that makes high-performance foam products for the health care industry.
Greenville-based Span America Medical Systems, once fearful of a hostile buyout from its biggest Lowcountry shareholder, is comfortable with the new arrangement, said board member Rob Johnston.
“We have an excellent relationship with Span America, and we'd be pleased, if we choose, to increase our ownership,” said Johnston, who, in addition to being a director of the Upstate company, is InterTech's chief strategy officer.
And just ahead of St. Patrick's Day, InterTech marched into Ireland's commercial real estate with a sizable deal. An affiliate finalized the $18.4 million purchase of an office complex near Dublin called Citywest Business Campus.
The deal marked the biggest office sale outside “Dublin City Centre” during the past year, a statement said.
The 75,000-square-foot building is leased to German software giant SAP, which pays about $2.13 million in annual rent, for a net annual return of more than 11 percent.
The purchase originated with InterTech's investment in Fyffes, a Dublin-based produce business. That deal has required Johnston to travel frequently to the capital city. “We started to become more familiar with what was going on in Ireland's economy and with Irish real estate,” he said.
In short, InterTech found a buyer's market where cash is king and where credit is scarce.
“People are trying to sell property at discounts to attract buyers with equity who don't need a loan,” he said. “We're fortunate to be in that position.”
Citywest probably won't be InterTech's last property deal on the Emerald Isle.
“We're definitely looking at other opportunities in Ireland.”
In summary, three deals announced within the same month, the equivalent of a hat trick in hockey parlance. Fitting for the Zucker family, majority owners of the South Carolina Stingrays.
Reach John P. McDermott at 937-5572