Dorchester Co. works to draw industry

Jon Baggett

Dorchester County is trying to convince a company to locate part of its operations near Ridgeville.

If the effort is successful, the company would become the first tenant in a planned industrial park near U.S. Highway 78 and S.C. Highway 27, turning a largely wooded area into a tax-producing and job-generating hub.

The effort is a part of the county's broader plan to diversify its economy.

"Dorchester County is stepping up and being more aggressive to bring jobs to the area," County Council Chairman Jamie Feltner said.

Economic development officials are keeping the company's identity confidential while it searches for a location. It's unclear how many or what kind of jobs the prospect, code-named "Project Part," would generate.

Still, County Council recently approved $1.2 million in incentives that would go toward the water and sewer lines for the site.

"This is all just speculative, but we're taking the steps to move forward if something were to come about," said Jon Baggett, the county's director of economic development.

The company is eyeing an unspecified location near U.S. Interstate 26 where county officials have pinpointed as an ideal spot for a future industrial park. The land is currently owned by paper-products giant MeadWestvaco Corp., which owns thousands of acres of forestland throughout the Lowcountry.

The county currently has a smattering of smaller, mostly aging industrial parks, Baggett said. It wants to attract future development, jobs and tax revenue by preparing larger sites near its highway interchanges.

That fits in with the county's

long-range development strategy, Feltner said.

"Part of my plan was we set aside areas for industry to bring permanent jobs to Dorchester County rather than just having residential development," Feltner said.

"We needed to diversify our revenue stream in this county."

Giving companies a few planned industrial sites to pick from also could steer industry away from locating in undeveloped areas near existing neighborhoods.

The county already has identified another industrial park site called Winding Wood, a 610-acre property on U.S. Highway 78 just outside of St. George. It is the only one in the Charleston area that's recognized by the state Commerce Department's Certified Sites program, which began in 2003.

These moves during turbulent economic times could help the county attract new jobs when companies begin expanding again.

"I'm trying to make a push to get ready so when projects start coming again, we'll be ready for them," Baggett said.