ORANGEBURG — Dubai-based Economic Zones World unveiled details of a $600 million master plan that would turn a rural Santee sod farm into an industrial hub with more than 4 million square feet of warehouse space.
They laid out their plan — which includes breaking ground late next year — in front of hundreds of South Carolina community and business leaders who looked past the plan's finer points, instead seeing the project as a major economic opportunity that could lift one of the state's poorest areas out of poverty.
The center would be built along U.S. Interstate 95 in what is often called the "Corridor of Shame" for the bleak prospects facing its younger, mostly black residents. The region is also plagued by double-digit unemployment figures.
"We're here today because of the leadership in this community that decided not to believe in the conventional wisdom, that we should not buy into these statistics," U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn told the audience.
The plan from Economic Zones World, which owns Jafza International, would create an estimated 3,067 jobs when it begins operating in 2012, said Steve Eames, vice president and operations manager for EZW Americas.
The industrial center would be built on about 1,300 acres that the company bought for about $10 million late last year. The site would be a place where major manufacturers could assemble products, then either store or distribute them to major Southeastern cities.
Most of the cargo will pass through the Port of Charleston before arriving at the site, which will also have rail access.
The Dubai company said it plans to launch a marketing campaign next year to try to attract its first occupants. Eames admitted that his company was pursuing industrial development at a time when clients at its other industrial centers were beginning to spend less.
"There is just no escaping this," he said.
But Eames said the decision was made to move forward with the long-term project because it is "an opportunity to position ourselves and South Carolina for the upturn."
By 2020, workers at the site are expected to handle the equivalent of about 660,000 20-foot-long cargo containers each year. That's roughly a third of what the Port of Charleston handles annually, although the new terminal in North Charleston would eventually boost port capacity to about 4 million 20-foot containers.
Savannah's port has siphoned away some container volume in recent years, but Eames said that Charleston's port is key to the development because it can handle bigger ships. That will become even more important after the Panama Canal's widening is complete in 2014, he said.
Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission, said Orangeburg, located near the site, is capitalizing on Charleston's growth problems. Residential demand closer to the coast has made vacant land tracts for industrial development both sparse and expensive.
Eames laid the site's master plan out in three main phases:
The first, scheduled for completion in 2012, calls for 950,000 square feet of office and industrial space on about 135 acres. An new interchange that will connect the site with I-95 is expected to be completed at about the same time.
The second, 94-acre phase would add more warehouse space by 2016, bringing total square footage to 2,120,000 square feet. It also called for a 63-acre "intermodal" yard, where containers could be moved between rail cars and trucks
The final phase spreads an extra 1,060,000 square feet of warehouse and distribution space over 131 acres.
Wednesday's plans only called for development of about a third of the available land. The rest could house a high-tech business incubator or fill other needs, Eames said. The park is expected to be built out by 2032.
Next year, company officials will begin planning the site's infrastructure, such as roads, sewer lines and electric lines. They are currently awaiting a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.