Deal may get Volvo project rolling

(File/Leroy Burnell/Staff)

MONCKS CORNER — An economic development project believed to be a Volvo automobile manufacturing facility in Berkeley County took a step toward reality Sunday as Santee Cooper’s board of directors approved a measure that will pay for incentives.

In a special called meeting here, the state-owned electric utility’s board voted unanimously for a plan to help lure an unnamed manufacturer. Lonnie Carter, the utility’s CEO, said details of the resolution will not be released until Monday because the deal with the manufacturer has not been finalized.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore said the resolution will not be final until board members sign it. The board met Sunday by phone.

“This completes one preliminary step among many in a pending company decision in the project,” Carter said, adding that the board has worked on this economic development deal for several months.

“The project is still in the process, so we are fairly limited as to what we can say about it,” Carter said.

A spokeswoman with the state’s Department of Commerce declined to comment on any pending economic development announcements. A spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley could not immediately be reached for comment.

Santee Cooper regularly is called on to help spur industrial recruitment through the utility’s economic development grants and loans, lower electric rates, real estate it owns and other programs.

The Post and Courier reported last month that Volvo was the likely company eyeing a 2,800-acre parcel in the Camp Hall Commerce Park for a large manufacturing campus.

An application for an environmental permit filed by Berkeley County with the Army Corps of Engineers did not name the company, but it stated that it is seeking to build an “advanced manufacturing and assembly facility” that will require the same type of transportation, distribution and logistics network as the automotive and aerospace industries.

The manufacturer is identified as “Project Soter.” Soter is the spirit of safety in Greek mythology. Volvo cars have long been marketed as having a reputation for safety.

According to the permit application, the company initially would build a 575-acre manufacturing facility on Meadwestvaco Corp.’s undeveloped Camp Hall industrial park, which is about 28 miles from the Port of Charleston. The first phase would employ as many as 2,000 workers.

Depending on market conditions, a second phase could be built that would include another manufacturing and production facility on more land employing another 2,000 workers.

The permit was requested because the proposed work includes filling nearly 195 acres of wetlands.

A joint statement issued by Berkeley County and the state Commerce Department last month called the project “a tremendous opportunity to bring needed jobs and economic activity to northern Berkeley County near the I-95 corridor and do so in a way that also preserves and enhances the local environment.”

Volvo, which has been owned by Chinese automaker Geely Holding since 2010, said in March that it intends to build a U.S. factory under a plan to double its annual sales in the United States to 100,000 automobiles over the next few years.

It currently has two plants in Europe and two in China.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_