Industrial sites gamble on landing big companies

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Walter Sprouse stands at the entrance of the Augusta Corporate Park.Economic developers say that megasites such as this attract big projects.



Georgia pines tower over the dirt roads that snake through Augusta Corporate Park.

Tucked between Mike Padgett Highway and Horseshoe Road in south Augusta, the nearly 1,800-acre parcel of land more closely resembles a hunting ground than a bastion of industry.

But that is exactly what economic developers are hoping the site will become -- eventually attracting hundreds or even thousands of jobs.

Augusta Corporate Park is labeled a "mega site," meaning the land is ideal for a large manufacturing facility. Mega sites are usually at least 1,000 acres and come equipped with utilities such as water and power, are situated near an interstate and have rail access, among other amenities.

"It's sort of simple in a way. If you don't have a mega site, you can't attract a mega project," said Walter Sprouse, executive director of the Development Authority of Richmond County. "We're fortunate to have this piece of property that is an excellent mega site."

The site was being considered by manufacturer First Quality Tissue, but the company decided in May to locate in Anderson, S.C.

It is estimated that the decision cost Augusta between 400 and 1,000 jobs.

Sprouse believes First Quality skipped over the Augusta site partly because it lacks a large building, which the Anderson site has.

"If it hadn't been for that building, I am almost confident First Quality would have been here," Sprouse said.

The First Quality case illustrates the high stakes game of luring major industrial developments.

Particularly in a sluggish economy, large projects are few and far between, while mega sites are more plentiful.

At least 50 mega sites or potential mega sites are available in the Southeast, according to reports by the South Carolina Department of Commerce and Site Selection magazine. About 10 of those are in Georgia or South Carolina, including another site in the area -- the nearly 1,400-acre Sage Mill East site in Graniteville.

What it takes

Attracting a company for a mega site requires the right combination of resources, infrastructure and luck.

Typically, a company first identifies a region that is close to its client base, said Ed McCallum, senior principal partner at McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, S.C. His company has helped large manufacturers decide where to place their businesses.

Each project has its own nuances -- how much power is required or how close to an interstate it needs to be -- but one principle is constant, McCallum said.

"They look for a good business climate where it's affordable," he said. "When I say business climate, I mean are local and state leaders supportive of business?"

Although much is said about incentive packages, those don't become important to a company until later in the process, when the field has been narrowed, McCallum said.

"What I always tell clients is there is no amount of incentives that will ever make a bad location a good location," he added.

Marketing also can play an important role, said Stephanie Quattlebaum, economic development director for the CSRA Regional Development Center.

Power companies and state economic development agencies usually maintain databases of potential sites that are used in a company's background work, she said.

"If you don't pop up on that list of having a site that meets their specifications, you don't even get looked at," Quattlebaum said.

Sprouse estimated that he has shown Augusta Corporate Park to companies seven or eight times in the past year.

It costs about $10,000 a year to maintain the site.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. donated most of the land in 1993. The development authority also spent about $100,000 to pave an entrance and erect signs for the site, Sprouse said.

On the horizon

The Development Authority of Richmond County is in the process of having the corporate park certified as a Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development Site. The program requires that a site have at least 50 acres to be certified.

The program is part of a Georgia effort to attract more industry by establishing a readily available pool of industrial locations.

South Carolina commissioned a study on mega sites last year and identified several areas that would be ideal for development in Dillon, Chester and Kershaw counties. The final report said that South Carolina should be prepared to help companies that want to locate a large project within a "constrained schedule."

Regional efforts also are under way to attract development. The CSRA Unified Development Authority commissioned a study last year that identified several potential sites for a large industrial project.

No site has been picked yet, but it would need about 600 acres -- smaller than a mega site but larger than many industrial parks, said Troy Post, chairman of the group and executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County.

"You don't want to create just another industrial park," he said. "You want to create something that would be unique, something that another county doesn't really have."

Columbia County has an industrial park for development -- Horizon North -- but does not have land suitable for a mega site, Post said.

Area mega sites

Augusta Corporate Park

SIZE: 1,794 acres

LOCATION: 4760 Mike Padgett Highway and 1126 Horseshoe Road

WATER: On site

POWER: Jefferson Electric Cooperative

NATURAL GAS: Atlanta Gas Light Co.

RAIL: Norfolk Southern (at site)


PRICE: $5,000 per acre

ADDITIONAL: Infrastructure fund available to help with grading

Sage Mill East

SIZE: 1,38 acres

LOCATION: Graniteville

WATER: 1.42 miles to water line

POWER: Aiken Electric Cooperative

NATURAL GAS: Not available on property

RAIL: 1.4 miles to Norfolk Southern


PRICE: $22,000 to $30,000 per acre

ADDITIONAL: Adjacent to Sage Mill Industrial Park