Local investor attracts financial firepower

Entrepreneur Paul Cutler, shown in August demonstrating his Dish Squeegee invention, will stay on at AM Conservation Group Inc.

Trying to get its energy-saving products onto retail shelves, AM Conservation Group Inc. in Berkeley County has sold most of its interest to Trivest Partners, a Miami-based private equity firm.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Chief executive officer Paul Cutler, who previously was the Charleston-based company's sole owner, said Trivest has existing relationships with major retailers that might be interested in carrying some of the distributor's goods.

"We're creating a situation where the company can grow at an elevated level," he said Friday.

AM Conservation's warehouse off Clements Ferry Road imports energy-saving trinkets that it sells mostly to utility companies and municipalities.

But Cutler, an inventor at heart, also has patented several products of his own, including the quirky Dish Squeegee.

Getting those products in front of major retailers has been a bigger challenge, he said.

With the new Trivest relationship, the company will be able to add 15,000 square feet onto its existing 27,500 square-foot space. And the payroll could grow from 21 workers to about 30 by the end of next year, Cutler said.

Slimming down

The Pig has quietly shed a few.

Charleston-based Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. Inc. recently darkened four of its 100 stores in late October and early November. The cutbacks were included on list of statewide business closings and layoffs that the S.C. Department of Commerce updated on its website last week.

Piggly Wiggly decided it no longer was profitable to keep the stores open. The supermarkets included the high-profile Gardens Corner store on U.S. Highway 17 in Beaufort County. The others were in Union, Pacolet and Cowpens. In all, 84 jobs were affected.

"Each of them were locations which had come to the end of their lease," Piggly Wiggly spokesman Chris Ibsen said.

It's drafty

The Port of Charleston reached a milestone in its deepwater reputation last week: On Friday, the 300th so-called post-Panamax ship pulled into town.

The Mediterranean Shipping Co. 's Stella, which has a maximum draft of more than 47 feet, docked at the Wando Welch Terminal that morning. The port regularly accommodates ships drawing up to 48 feet, a message it has been pushing to the maritime industry.

Some 80 percent of ships on order are of the post-Panamax variety, which, put simply, means much bigger and heavier in anticipation of the Panama Canal expansion set to wrap up in 2014. But shipping companies aren't waiting for the wider, deeper canal to deploy those vessels.

The cost savings between a ship that can handle 4,000 boxes and those than can ferry 8,000 comes in at $200 for every 20 feet of container length, according to port officials. Charleston's position as the deepest harbor in the South Atlantic means it could capture business currently traveling through other places to reach markets closer to Charleston.

Going nuclear

Which U.S. electric utility will be first to reach its nuclear ambitions? South Carolina's very own Scana Corp. is in the top three. Says who? How about Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Gregory Jaczko.

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Bloomberg news service recently reported that the South Carolina Electric & Gas owner is likely to begin building its new reactors once it secures permits. Others in that same camp are Southern Co. and NRG Energy Inc.

The commission will start making decisions in 18 months on the 13 applications it has received to date, Jaczko told Bloomberg. Of those, only Scana, Southern and NRG are "actually doing" preparation work.

Unlike a couple of years ago, utilities are no longer rushing to build or expand nuclear capabilities because energy demand has dropped off as the economic downturn has dragged on. Also, natural gas is viewed as more economical because of falling prices. Jaczko said for the most part "now there appears to be more of a wait-and-see" on the nuclear front.

Scana is responsible for 55 percent of the costs of adding two new generators to the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County. Last week, said it was selling $300 million in revenue bonds to help pay for its share.

What ales ya?

The Charleston region's newest craft brewery, Westbrook Brewing Co. , will roll out its first three kegged products at six restaurants and retailers across the state over four days starting Dec. 20. Founder and CEO Edward Westbrook calls his first three brews the result of complex, unusual and balanced recipes.

The core product line includes: Belgian Pale Ale -- German and Belgian malts with English hops and a Belgian yeast strain; India Pale Ale -- American hop varieties are four times added in the kettle and twice in the fermenter, all based in Munich and Carapils malts; and White Thai - a twist on the classic Belgian witbier, using lemongrass and ginger root with a dash of Sorachi Ace hops.

The very first tastings will be in downtown Charleston on Dec. 20. From 4-6 p.m., help tap the keg at Charleston Beer Exchange at 14 Exchange St. Then move on over to Chai's Lounge and Tapas Bar from 6-10 p.m. at 462 King St.

From there, he has stops planned in Greenville and Columbia before returning home Dec. 23 for a tasting at Closed for Business at 453 King St. in Charleston between 6 and 10 p.m.