Originally created 07/23/98

Aiken construction underway



AIKEN -- The temperature inched toward 100 degrees, and a relentless sun glinted off the gilded shovels that turned the first ceremonial spades of earth for Aiken's newest industrial park.

But the three dozen dignitaries and development moguls gathered for the ground breaking at Summit Business Center ignored the heat to celebrate the hot event. Summit Business Center represents private-sector investment and growth on the north side of Aiken, a city where development has typically favored a southern sprawl.

Three businesses are poised to build or lease in the new park, and a fourth -- as yet unnamed -- is negotiating for space in the "spec" building going up now. Since that building will probably be occupied as soon as it is finished, developer Robert Fields and Aiken Corp., the city's economic development arm, already are planning another one.

Wade Brodie, chairman of Aiken Corp., said Wednesday was a red-letter day for the city because it proved that small industries could be enticed to the area where they are most needed to balance growth.

Mr. Brodie said the plan is to keep a "spec" building available for such businesses to view.

The city owns land several miles outside its limits for industrial parks -- Verenes and Aviation, already well into development, and Ventures, approved but not yet under way. Unlike those, Summit Business Park is on Rutland Drive, near enough to facilitate expansion by annexations. Only 15 acres of the 700-acre tract are in the city limit now, and Mr. Fields has promised to use development to spur annexation.

Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said private-sector involvement is the biggest plus. "The future is the private sector putting its money into development and not relying on the taxpayer," he said.

To underscore private investment in the park, SCANA Corp. gave $15,000 toward construction of the "spec" building Wednesday. SCANA has already given $25,000 and has pledged $50,000 in all.

The three companies already committed to locating in Summit Business Center are:

-- Diversified Supply, Inc., a Chattanooga, Tenn., minority-owned electrical distribution company with branch offices in Martinez and Monroe, La. Gary Visher, company comptroller, said the Martinez branch is relocating to Aiken to be nearer the Savannah River Site, one of its biggest customers.

The company has 23 employees and generates about $11 million a year.

-- Fastenal, an industrial supplier that specializes in threaded fasteners. It has 700 branch sites in 48 states, including sites in Aiken and North Augusta. The Aiken location will be moved into the business park, allowing the company to double its local presence.

-- Gregory Electric, which is based in Columbia with offices in Charleston, Florence, Aiken and Raleigh, N.C. The Aiken office has 20 employees now and is expected to expand as it takes on new industrial clients.

Initial occupants of the business park represent about 50 jobs, Mr. Fields said.