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Though officials remain mum on the specifics of a newly announced multimillion dollar project for the county, some details emerged about Keer America Corp. during Lancaster County Council’s meeting Monday, Dec. 9.
Days before an official announcement is set to be released by the S.C. Department of Commerce on Dec. 16, Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. President Keith Tunnell discussed with council a plethora of information regarding the company.
He said the company, which is the American arm of textile manufacturer Keer China, has already identified the property where it will set up shop in the county.
“They are in the process of closing on and purchasing 140 acres of land in Indian Land along Old Bailes Road,” Tunnell said, which includes portions of both the Bailes Ridge and MacMillan business parks.
The first phase of the project will begin “in or around” the intersection of S.C 160 and Old Bailes Road, on a 40-acre tract of land, he said.
“There will be 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and there will be some warehouse space. There will also be a 10,000 to 15,000-square-foot office building on the corner of Old Bailes Road,” Tunnell told council.
As part of the company’s fee agreements with the county, Keer has pledged an investment of $218 million and the creation of more than 500 full-time jobs paying an average of $13.15 per hour, within eight years. Tunnell assured council that members of the ReadySC workforce training program are already developing training for those jobs.
“They have already been to China and are putting these programs together now,” he said. “The chairman (of the company) has told me I’m personally responsible for getting these 500 workers for him.”
Tunnell said Keer’s chairman was interested in relocating to an area already familiar with textile manufacturing.
“The reason they relocated here is our success with textiles,” he said.
When asked why the company decided on the Indian Land property, he said the chairman wanted to be close to both the airport and downtown Charlotte.
“We offered quite a bit to get them to move farther south and they did look at the Air-Rail park, but finding 140 acres of usable space was difficult there,” Tunnell said. “It gets back to our need to have ready spec buildings.”
Though county residents are just finding out about the magnitude of the project, Tunnell said the company’s announcement followed a “fierce” competition phase.
“It was between us, North Carolina and several northeastern states who were in competition,” Tunnell said. “We did our best. We’re glad they chose Lancaster County and will do everything we can to get our people in those positions.”
“This will be a very, very, very big project for this county and one I’ve been working on for two years,” he said.
In response to environmental concerns, Tunnell said both the Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control were consulted.
“This is not going to disturb any wetlands,” he said. “This textile project is very clean. I’ve been to their operation in China and it’s very high-tech. If I hadn’t seen Chinese writing there I would think I was in one of the high-tech Springs plants.”
Also consulted, he said, were members of the S.C. Department of Transportation, who are discussing a potential plan to expand Old Bailes Road into three lanes to ease traffic.
After listening to Tunnell’s report, Councilman Brian Carnes asked about the appropriateness of releasing information about the company.
“Up until this point, we’ve been bound by confidentiality agreements with the State Department of Commerce,” Carnes said.
“Yes, but in September we did say we’d release the name prior to third reading,” Tunnell said.
Tunnell explained why the project was clouded with secrecy up to this point.
“When you’re working on a project of this magnitude, if information gets out, you could lose it,” Tunnell said. “Loose lips sink ships.”
Tunnell made one final comment before sitting down.
“They’re a good corporate citizen and they know they’re in Indian Land, not Fort Mill,” he said.
Slew of related ordinances
Council then unanimously approved final reading for a slew of ordinances related to “Project Vino”/Keer America Corp., including:
• The issuance of special source revenue bonds, not to exceed $7.7 million, to help defray the costs of construction for certain economic development improvements for the company. County Attorney Mike Ey told council there are “clawback provisions” requiring the company either meet its investment and job requirements or repay the credits it received.
• Authorizing a fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement for the project
• Rezoning a portion of the Bailes Ridge planned development district in Indian Land to allow a 38.6-acre tract of land, located along Old Bailes Road, to exceed development intensity of 10,000 square feet per acre, allowing up to 13,000 square feet of building area per acre
• Authorizing a multi-county park agreement between Lancaster and Chesterfield counties
• Authorizing removal of the Keer property from a joint industrial and business park agreement between Lancaster and Chester counties
• Amending the trust indenture between the county and Wells Fargo in regards to the Bailes Ridge property
Council also unanimously approved replacing all references to “Project Vino” in the county’s various ordinances with the actual company name.
‘A big distance’
Lancaster resident Keith Grey was one of only three residents to speak out about the project.
“This particular project will be two miles from the North Carolina border, five miles from Fort Mill. It will be closer to downtown Charlotte than Lancaster. Has it ever been considered to make a real big package of benefits to make a company consider the central or southern part of the county, which was the most devastated (areas)?” Grey asked.
He worried that between “40 to 50 percent” of the potential 500 jobs at Keer could be given to North Carolina residents because of their close proximity to the facility.
“Can some provision be made for a transportation link to get there? It’s a big distance and the people who’ve been out of work since Springs shut down are really going to be hurting for rides,” he said.
Council also held public hearings for three of the ordinances, including the removal of the Bailes Ridge property, the trust indenture amendment and the multi-county park agreement between Lancaster and Chesterfield counties.
Lack of info, time worrisome
Though no one commented during the first two hearings, two Indian Land residents stepped to the microphone for the latter hearing.
Nicholas Kurzman, president of the homeowners association for the Claremont neighborhood located near the Keer property, relayed several concerns from his community.
“There is a general concern about the timeliness of the information and a lack of information, that you were able to make this known just days before third reading, about what the project is,” Kurzman said. “There are concerns from those in this area about not having the proper time to prepare.”
He wondered if environmental and traffic impacts had been considered.
“I ask council, the EDC, the planning commission to make every effort that if this project goes forward, that environmental impact and general land use is taken into consideration by the developer. We also ask that an appropriate traffic study take place. With the addition of this project and the nearby apartment complex and the school, we ask the developer to incur the cost to support proper traffic flow and the safety of pedestrians,” he said.
Indian Land resident Barbara Bartos, who commented earlier in the evening about her opposition to the creation of a cluster subdivision overlay district, agreed with Kurzman.
“You’re hearing a theme tonight. There needs to be discussion, not public comments that eventually become all disjointed,” Bartos said. “It’s not working.”
She asked council to take some time to discuss the issue with residents.
“This gentleman just summed up what we’ve been talking about with the cluster ordinance. Take a breath. We don’t need to rush this stuff,” she said, as the audience erupted in applause.