GADC director updates council on economic development

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Industrial zoning and sewer capacity considerations for 2016

 

At a recent Greenville County Council meeting, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC) director Mark Farris offered an update on economic development activity in the county and highlighted challenges ahead.

More than $400 million was logged as economic development investment in 2015, reported Farris, noting that the county rewards a company’s investment and the state rewards job creation. Farris said he was proud of the “geographic diversification” of announcements in 2015, including those in Fountain Inn and Travelers Rest. Council member H.G. “Butch” Kirven said council was happy with the economic development projects in the last year.

County Council works closely with GADC and often approves fee in lieu of tax agreements (FILOT) for companies seeking relocation and expansion. “FILOT is not something we relish, but is a necessity,” Farris said.

Farris explained the process of courting a company to locate or relocate and said the state’s property tax rate is a hurdle that must be overcome. The rate is a full percent higher than Jackson, Miss., and Houston, he said.

When asked whether council should work to preserve industrial zoning, Farris said that would be a good move if possible. The county has a small amount of industrial property, but it makes the most income tax-wise, he said.

 

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Site inventory is key

 

GADC is moving forward with analysis of why the county lost some projects in 2015, Farris said. Initial information from the last three years revealed the need for an adequate inventory of available sites, he said. “About 30 percent of the time we lost a project because we didn’t have a good site, so we have to make sure that’s a consideration in land use planning, is that we have a balance. I don’t want to make it a prime consideration for land use planning, but it’s a consideration.” Kirven echoed the need for a mix of land use types.

“There’s certainly no shortage of people who want to live in Greenville, but we want to make sure it’s a good place to work, as well,” Farris said.

He estimated five percent or less of county land is zoned industrial, yet generates “close to 50 percent of property tax revenues.” Keeping a balanced mix of sites is important, especially for covering the cost of county services, he said. “We’re losing money on [residential developments] as opposed to commercial or industrial where we are covering the cost of community services.”

 

Incentives, infrastructure also critical

 

Council members asked why the county lost out on the headquarters of Sealed Air, which moved to Charlotte. Farris said he thought concern about access to an international airport was one factor, along with the amount of available class A office space. He sees the Upstate offering more mid-level locations when it comes to corporate headquarters, citing Wynit, which will locate in downtown Greenville, and ScanSource.

The new gigabit Internet access proposed by AT&T will work in the Upstate’s favor in attracting high-tech businesses and startups, he added.

In the future, Farris said he would like to see a change in South Carolina incentives that are geared toward manufacturing, shifting toward allowing items like textile mill reuse credits to be used for office space.

Availability of infrastructure like water and sewer are other considerations, Farris said. Though water seems ubiquitous, “it seems like the sewer is the real limiting factor for us, at least industrially,” he said.

“I would love to see more proactive [sewer] lines built in areas of Greenville County that would give us an opportunity to market additional sites,” he said. The lines are dependent on cost and the sewer authority’s ability to expand, he added.

Multiple residential developments have been hampered or stalled in the Taylors area because of limited or no sewer capacity.

“In economic development, it is a given that if you show a site, it’s got all utilities,” Farris said. “The promise of a sewer line won’t get you very far in this business.”

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