A boom in plastic resin exports to foreign markets is bringing new life to a North Charleston manufacturing center that had fallen into disrepair after it closed during the Great Recession.
Massachusetts-based Mid-States Packaging Inc. said Tuesday it will open a warehouse and distribution center at 4500 Goer Drive to focus on shipping plastic resin pellets that can be used to make hundreds of products — from sporks and milk jugs to toys and medical devices.
Mid-States plans to invest $5.2 million into a building that once housed Goer Manufacturing and later Leggett & Platt Inc., two companies that made display cases for retail stores. It eventually plans to hire 30 people to work in a warehouse expected to grow from its current 70,000 square feet to 150,000 square feet.
"There’s an influx of new polyethylene capacity in Texas, over seven billion pounds, and we don't think Texas can handle the exports for all of that, so we've set up this operation," said Charles Giroux, the company's president. "I’ve got a lot of appointments in Texas next week to tell them the shingle is out and we’re ready to go."
Mid-States will use an existing Norfolk-Southern rail line that runs along the Goer Drive property to bring the plastic from the Lone Star State. Once in North Charleston, the pellets will be packaged and put onto containers that will be shipped from the Port of Charleston. Giroux said he plans to export between 7,000 and 10,000 cargo containers full of plastic each year to dozens of countries.
Mid-States is one of several companies in the Charleston region that are taking advantage of the surge in plastic resin production in Gulf Coast states. Driving that production is a bounty of cheap natural gas, the key raw ingredient in resin.
The chemical divisions of Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Dow and other companies have responded to the shale production boom by building new resin manufacturing plants. Chevron, for example, is bringing two polyethylene units online this year that will produce 2.2 billion pounds of resins annually.
With resin exports projected to increase by 60 percent in coming years, Charleston's port is looking to steal market share from rivals along the Gulf Coast. Chevron is one of the companies that will send excess plastic resin to Charleston for export.
Charleston "is seeing the benefits of the petrochemical build along the Texas Gulf Coast, as large volumes of polyethylene to be produced will need an outlet for export," said Erin Dhand, spokeswoman for the State Ports Authority. "Gulf ports simply won't be able to keep up withe the demand for empty containers and the vessel space needed to serve resin exports."
In addition to the new jobs and investment, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said he is happy to see the old Goer Manufacturing building put back to use. The property sat empty for years after Leggett & Platt moved out in early 2009. Steve Dykes, Charleston County's economic development director, said roof leaks and other problems made the building difficult to market.
Goer Drive Investors, an affiliate of Boston-based GFI Partners, bought the property in December for $8.5 million. In addition to Mid-States, the building houses candle manufacturer Rewined Candles and is being used as a production set for the upcoming "Mr. Mercedes" television series based on a Stephen King novel.
William Deshler, GFI's chief operating partner, said the company plans to create more visibility of the building from the adjacent Interstate 26 and will perform "extensive site work to make the building more conducive to manufacturers and tenants."
Giroux said machinery for the distribution center should be in place by July with most of the hiring to take place this fall. The law firm Womble Carlyle negotiated incentives for the project, including job development tax credits through the state's Coordinating Council for Economic Development.
Mid-States was established in 2001 by Giroux and Tracy Giroux-Harpin. Their family that has been in the transportation industry for more than four generations. The company has existing locations in Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas.