County courting mystery projects 3 companies could boost local economy

Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey

BY PRENTISS FINDLAY

pfindlay@postandcourier.com

Projects Thor, Phoenix and Gray sound like something out of a science-fiction novel, but Charleston County is earnestly courting the economic development projects whose identities remain a secret for now.

That is the way things are supposed to work under state law, officials said.

Project Phoenix, described as a $21 million investment, would mean the creation of 564 jobs over five years paying average annual wages of $30,500. Phoenix would be a major facility for a Fortune 500 company involved in customer care and technical support, the county says.

Project Thor is a company that plans to spend $64 million for an expansion that includes more property and buildings, new machinery and equipment that would result in at least 98 more employees earning an average annual wage of $71,000. Project Gray developers plan to build a manufacturing and distribution center in Ladson that would hire up to 50 employees over five years who would have average annual wages of nearly $40,000.

Fierce competition requires that the county keep most information about the projects under wraps for now.

“The professionalism of a community’s economic development program mandates the strict maintenance of confidentiality precisely as requested in order to allow corporate site selection processes the time, space, and environment to reach a successful conclusion,” county spokesman Shawn Smetana said in an emailed statement.

Before the projects can happen, County Council must vote three times to approve financial incentives for them. More is revealed about the projects in advance of a public hearing before a third council vote.

On Tuesday, financial incentives for Thor get a second-reading vote and Phoenix is up for first-reading approval. Gray is scheduled for a third-reading vote next month.

To encourage the investments, the companies are offered incentives including a fee-in-lieu of taxes deal.

Council Chairman Elliott Summey explained that a lower tax bill for a specified time is offered in exchange for the new revenue that a company brings to the area. New jobs mean more spending on goods and services, he said.

State law governs the rules of economic development when it comes to what can be offered as an allowable incentive.

And those names? The county has nothing to do with creating the code moniker for projects under consideration. That is something that the state does, he said.

Projects Gray, Thor and Phoenix are described as standard economic development deals. For Gray, the county is considering a fee-in-lieu of taxes arrangement for a company that plans to invest $32 million here. The project would mean new public revenues of about $6.5 million over the next 20 years including about $1.4 million for Charleston County, the county said.

The Project Gray fee-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement includes a standard 6 percent assessment rate over a 20-year term with the tax rate fixed at the current level, the county said.

It is part of a state and local incentives package developed during the company recruitment process. The S.C. Department of Commerce, State Ports Authority and readySC, a division of the state technical college system, have been part of the effort, the county said.

Who could Thor be? There is a Thor Industries with a subsidiary that makes travel trailers but its Heartland Recreational Vehicles announced this month that it is building a plant in Idaho. There are at least three Phoenix Industries located out of state but none has indicated plans to expand in South Carolina.

Adrienne Fairwell, spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, cautioned against reading too much into the code monikers for the projects.

“I don’t know that we (Department of Commerce) come up with the names. It could be a situation where the names are agreed upon. I think it’s up to the project management,” she said.