By Betsy Finklea
“A vision”—that’s what Marlboro Electric Coop is offering Dillon County as the Dillon County Council moves to the third reading of an ordinance authorizing the execution of an agreement and contract by and between Dillon County and Marlboro Development Team, Inc. providing for the construction of an industrial building.
“We’re offering the citizens of Dillon County a vision—not just four walls and a roof,” said Bill Fleming, President and CEO of Marlboro Electric Coop.
A concept of improved economic development for Dillon County is what the goal is of the offer that Marlboro Electric has presented to the county. “Our proposal is a vision for the growth of jobs and improvements for Dillon County citizens,” said Fleming.
Before Harbor Freight even started their expansion, the Tri-County Park Board of which Fleming is a non-voting member, talked about needing product, specifically a spec building, to attract industries. The three counties involved on the board began coming up with the costs for each county. The process was moving slowly, but it was moving, said Fleming.
Then Harbor Freight started its expansion, which took up all the board’s time. The spec building that the board was talking about was placed on the back burner. During the Harbor Freight deal, County Administrator Clay Young along with some council members expressed the need for a spec building or industrial park in Dillon County that was just for Dillon County and in a place that Dillon County would not have to split the taxes with two other counties like in the Tri-County Park.
The business model being used is for Marlboro Electric’s proposal is similar to one used by another coop that had great success. Fleming said he saw that this just wasn’t putting up a building, but a bigger vision. “Our proposal to Dillon County is a proven plan of economic growth. Cooperatives are utilizing this proven business model to assist any S.C. county with job growth, larger tax base for the counties and enhancing the lives of the cooperative’s members and the community,” said Fleming.
What Marlboro Electric is proposing is not just a building but a Class A Park. A Class A spec building in a Class A Park is known for its “curb appeal,” said Fleming, a place where people do a double-take. It has landscaping, the building is energy-efficient, and it is substantial. The image says “who we are and what the park stands for.” It is known for quality as the quality of the building will determine the quality of the industry. The types of industries that locate in this type of spec building in this type of park are not start-ups, but ongoing industries, who will use this location to bring customers in and show them what they do.
Fleming said the building is being located in their service territory because they can’t invest coop money without benefiting the coop members, thousands of whom are in Dillon County. They looked along I-95 for the largest, most visible tract of property and settled on the Gaddy property which is in the same area where Dillon County built a frontage road with the capital sales tax money.
Marlboro Electric has a 15 year option on all the property necessary for the park. The option came about after many months of negotiation.
Fleming said then Marlboro Electric went back to the county administrator and presented the idea. He said he would like to see the numbers, and Marlboro Electric began putting a package together.
Marlboro Electric got costs from the neighboring coop for a building identical to the one they want to build. M.B. Kahn, the largest industrial contractor in South Carolina, had the lowest price. They have built more spec buildings than any other firm. Their cost was 25 percent less than any other Pee Dee area contractor and a half-million less than any other Pee Dee firm who bid on the facility.
The package calls for the following expenses:
$2,000,000 for the building
$150,000 for the land
$350,000 for landscaping and irrigation; utilities; marketing the site; legal fees; engineering fees; project management; insurance; park certification.
Marlboro Electric is guaranteeing the $2.5 million cost and no additional costs will be added.
Dillon County would be responsible for the water and sewer costs as they would be at any site where they would locate a spec building.
Included in this package is the marketing of the building. “This marketing includes, for example, printed material mailed to site locators and project managers, E-Blast, an internet-based marketing inclusion on many websites, etc. We are partners with Palmetto Economic Development Corporation, an economic development and marketing firm owned and managed by the 20 S.C. Electric Cooperatives and Santee Cooper.”
In addition, MEC is looking at providing the County with RDA money to help with eligible projects. RDA funds are funds that the S.C. Department of Revenue collects on sales. The laws were changed to keep the money local for qualifying projects. This allows Marlboro Electric to use the $200,000-$300,000 they collect for local qualifying projects. Marlboro Electric does not have to use the money, however. They can send it to Columbia where it can go into a pool for qualifying projects in other areas of the state. Marlboro Electric is not required by law to accept these funds or to give them to anyone.
Fleming said he wants the public to understand that “we’re not carpetbaggers here with a quick deal.” Marlboro Electric has been in operation for 73 years and has thousands of members in Marlboro and Dillon Counties. He said this is an opportunity to give back to some of their members in Dillon County so the members benefit.
Fleming said because they are a non-profit organization, their profit must be redistributed. About a year ago, Marlboro Electric decided with the price of wholesale power which they have little control over they had to come up with a way that they could stop raising rates and their members would benefit. Out of this need, Marlboro Development Team was formed. This would allow money to be made while keeping the rates stable. They are a subsidiary of Marlboro Coop and are governed by the same CEO and the same board of directors and wholly owned by the membership. Almost every coop in the state has one. They are the team mentioned in the ordinance that the council has been voting on.
Fleming said the third reading of the upcoming vote on the ordinance is not whether Dillon County is getting a spec building or not. He said Marlboro Electric is not in the spec building business. He said if the council chooses not to approve the ordinance then they are saying they don’t want the bigger vision that Marlboro Electric is offering.
Fleming said in the greatest book that has ever been written, the Bible, the disciples asked Jesus what they should do when they went to a village or community to witness and the people didn’t want to hear the message. He said Jesus told them to shake the dust off their sandals and move on.
Fleming said that the third reading will give MEC a true indication of the County’s vision for economic development and whether a partnership can happen. Should the vote be anything but to move forward, MEC will withdraw the proposal indefinitely and focus future resources and economic development assistance elsewhere.
By Betsy Finklea