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Construction booming in small S.C. town


By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published July 18, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Julian Wilson of Grubb & Ellis Wilson Kibler has a map of the Cayce area covered with several red boxes and a few blue ones.

The red boxes indicate new developments built or announced since 2008; the blue represent what was in the area before that year.

The Cayce area represents half of the smallest commercial real estate submarket in the Midlands of South Carolina, Wilson said. The other half is West Columbia.

“Cayce has had more growth than the greater Columbia area combined since 2008,” Wilson said.

Cayce’s growth has been sparked by several major economic development projects like Amazon’s 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center, Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s $313 million plant and research facility and SCANA’s sprawling $235 million corporate campus.

Nearby, along U.S. Highway 21, the privately owned Lexington County Industrial Park has landed four warehousing and distribution companies: Home Depot, Husqvarna, Janpak and Republic National Distributing Co.

The latest development, reported in late June, involves Lexington Medical Center’s plans to build a 74,000-square-foot building, housing an occupational health clinic and physicians’ offices on 12th Street Extension, across from the main entrance to the SCANA campus.

The facility, expected to open in the fall of 2013, will serve employees of companies that call the Cayce area home, said Roger Sipe, hospital vice president.

Wilson and others said there are four major reasons for the area’s growth:

Traffic infrastructure: The interchange of interstates 26 and 77 is on the edge of Cayce and I-20 is just minutes away, providing companies in the area with easy access to major markets along the East Coast and across the Southeastern United States. Also, the Port of Charleston, one of the country’s major container ports, and Charlotte, N.C., a key multimodal hub, are about a 90-minute drive in opposite directions from the area.

The 500-acre Saxe Gotha Industrial Park, where Amazon and Nephron are located, also is served by CSX Corp. railroad.

The Columbia Metropolitan Airport, the state’s No. 1 handler of air freight and home to United Parcel Service’s Southeast hub, is less than 10 miles from the interchange of interstates 26 and 77.

“Cayce is at the epicenter of South Carolina,” said Randy Halfacre, president and CEO of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce.

Responsive local government: Wilson said he could get answers quickly for his clients from key people involved in the county economic development efforts.

“I can send one email to four people requesting information and all four people will write me back at the end of the business day in a matter of hours,” Wilson said. “There’s very little red tape.”

Lexington County “has customer-service oriented government,” added Ben Johnson, research director at Grubb & Ellis.

The county also offers very competitive incentives to attract investment, Wilson said.

Availability of utilities and land: Cayce sewer and water systems serve the area as well as major SCE&G transmission lines for electricity and natural gas.

Cayce and Lexington County also are on the “high side” of the Congaree River, while the Richland side lies in a flood plain. “This is fantastic agricultural land,” Johnson said of the Richland side of the river, “but you don’t want to build a 1 million-square-foot warehouse on it.”

Availability of workforce: With more than 750,000 people living in the metropolitan area, employers can tap into a large and diverse workforce. Collaboration among employers and local schools and colleges has produced a workforce with skills, including engineers, scientists, robotic operators and computer technicians.

Governmental teamwork: Saxe Gotha, for example, represents a $13 million investment by the county. Lexington County acquired the site, built connecting roads and transformed the property into a development-ready industrial park.

Having available land with the infrastructure already in place helped land Amazon, which plans to create more than 1,500 jobs at the distribution center, and Nephron, which will employ 700.

Space is filling up so fast in the area that the vacancy rate for industrial property in the Cayce-West Columbia submarket has slipped to 5.9% at the end of the first quarter of 2012 — nearly half of the total market’s average rate of 11%, according to NAI Avant.

There’s a need for warehouse space because manufacturers are expanding so fast that they’re moving machines and production lines into warehouses and having to store product elsewhere.

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