Ports may help Dollar Tree branch out

Dollar Tree, which is buying rival discount store retailer Family Dollar, is one of the nation’s largest importers of goods.

Discount retail giant Dollar Tree, one of the nation’s largest importers, could get help from the State Ports Authority to build a distribution center in the Upstate.

The maritime agency’s board of directors on Monday unanimously approved spending up to $500,000 on public infrastructure for a facility to be used by a company economic development officials are calling “Project Evergreen” — widely reported to be Dollar Tree.

The Chesapeake, Va.-based retailer is in talks to build a $125 million distribution center in Cherokee County that would create about 400 jobs. It would be the 11th — and at 1.5 million square feet, the largest — distribution center for the chain, which has about 13,000 stores nationwide.

Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO, would not name the company but said it would bring “a very significant number” of cargo boxes through the Port of Charleston.

With its pending acquisition of the Family Dollar chain, Dollar Tree ranks No. 10 on the Journal of Commerce’s list of top importers, bringing 135,100 cargo boxes of merchandise through the country’s seaports in 2014, according to the shipping industry publication.

Dollar Tree previously has not done any significant business with the Port of Charleston, according to Zepol Corp., a U.S. import and export data provider. The retailer historically has sent most of its imports — about 61 percent — through Newark, N.J., Los Angeles and Savannah.

“It will be interesting to see the data shift if they put a distribution center in South Carolina,” said Cori Rogers, Zepol’s marketing director. “That could mean thousands more (cargo boxes) coming into the (Charleston) port in the future.”

Using the Charleston waterfront also could make Dollar Tree eligible for tax breaks through the state’s port volume increase credit program. The company could get up to $8 million per year in rebates of income or employee withholding taxes based on the amount of business it does with the port.

In addition, the state’s Commerce Department has offered the retailer a $1.5 million grant to buy land for the center, according to the Gaffney Ledger newspaper. The 214-acre site is near S.C. Highway 110 in Cowpens, a small town in Cherokee County. Any incentives would have to be approved by the state’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development, which meets on July 9 in Columbia.

Allison Skipper, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department, declined to comment on “Project Evergreen.”

Randy Guiler, Dollar Tree’s vice president of investor relations, said Monday the company “is looking to add a distribution center in the Southeast” but has not settled on a specific site.

“We’re still exploring alternatives,” Guiler said.

Newsome said he expects an announcement in the next couple of weeks.

A distribution center in Cowpens would be able to ship cargo by rail directly from the Port of Charleston to the SPA’s inland port in Greer, where cargo could then be transferred to trucks for the approximately 30-mile trip to the proposed Dollar Tree site.

Dollar Tree officials met with residents living near the proposed distribution center site in April, and showed renderings of the project to those who signed a confidentiality agreement, according to WSPA TV-7 in Spartanburg.

Cherokee and Spartanburg counties were scheduled to give final approval to incentive agreements for the Dollar Tree distribution center during separate meetings Monday, according to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal newspaper. Spartanburg County Council was to vote on its agreement with Cherokee County to develop Upstate Corporate Park, where the center would be located. Cherokee County Council will vote on other incentives.

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