$290 million ‘Project Wolverine’

A long and mutually beneficial relationship that began a decade ago is about get even longer and even more mutually beneficial for Union County and the entity known as “Project Wolverine.”

The agenda for Tuesday’s Union County Council meeting includes first reading of an ordinance amending a fee in lieu of taxes agreement and providing an incentive agreement for an expansion by a local industry. As is often the case where legislation involving economic development is concerned, the company covered by the proposed agreement is not identified by name. Instead, it is identified by a code name, a common practice in economic development agreements between the county or some other public entity and a private industry.

The code name for the company in this instance is “Project Wolverine,” but while the identity of the company is not revealed in the agreement, the history of its relationship with the county is. It is a history that has seen the company invest $140 million in the county over the past decade, an investment that will nearly triple in the years ahead.

The proposed agreement states that, on Aug. 9, 2006, the company entered into a fee agreement with the county to invest $90 million in the construction of a manufacturing facility in Union County and create 130 new, full-time equivalent jobs. To facilitate the investment, construction of the facility, and the creation of those jobs, Union County and Spartanburg County entered into an agreement to develop a multi-county industrial park in Union County in which the facility would be located.

Six years later, on Dec. 1, 2012, the company and the county into another fee agreement, this one involving the expansion of the facility built under the 2006 agreement. This new agreement called for the company to invest $50,926,000 in the expansion of the manufacturing facility and create 100 new, full-time equivalent jobs.

Four years later, the company is ready to expand again and county council stands ready to being the process of approving a third fee agreement covering this second expansion.

The proposed agreement states that this second expansion “will represent an expected capital investment in the County of Two Hundred Ninety Million, Four Hundred Thousand Dollars ($290,400,000), but not less than Two Hundred Seventy-Eight Million, Two Hundred Thousand Dollars ($278,200,000) in the County.” It further states that this new expansion “will create not less than One Hundred (100) full time equivalent jobs, with benefits, and that such investment and job creation is made to enhance the economic development of the County.”

To facilitate that expansion and the ensuing economic benefit the county will enjoy as a result, the agreement states the company requires “additional acreage to the northeast of its existing plant.” The land needed by the company — which the agreement states are composed of three parcels encompassing 1.85 acre, 0.98 acre, and 0.73 acre, respectively — is owned by the county. The agreement states that the county is willing to convey that land to the company upon council’s approval of the ordinance authorizing that transfer.

The agreement also states that the county will seek the “judicial abandonment and closure of the portion of Fire Station Road running along the southeastern edge of the County Parcels.” Once that is achieved, the agreement states the county will convey that portion of the road to the company.

In addition to the parcels of land the county will convey to the company, the agreement states the expansion will also involve the county spec building which will be leased to the company.

Council voted in September to authorize the sale of the spec building to Agracel Inc. of Effingham, Illinois for $1.5 million. With the sale, the county was able to recoup its investment in the development of the spec building and clear nearly $70,000 as well.

Located at 2 LSP Drive in the Union Commerce Park off US 176, the site includes the 60,000 square foot building itself, an adjacent 60,000 square-foot building pad, and an additional 45,000 square feet of open land. The pad and the additional land are there to accommodate any potential industrial expansion that may occur.

At the time of the sale, the property had all the necessary utilities including power, water, sewer, and gas for industrial development and ready access to US 176, but the spec building itself was an empty shell with a dirt floor. However, Agracel, which was founded in 1986, specializes in up-fitting buildings for manufacturing and has developed over 12 million square feet of industrial space in 17 states.

Since the sale was approved, work has been under way at the site with additions being built that appear to be more than doubling the size of the spec building.

When reached for comment Monday, Union County Supervisor Frank Hart

“This is a major economic development project for Union County,” Hart said. “It is a great testimony to our community when an existing industry commits to make such an enormous investment in the county.This is the largest single project investment in Union County since the creation of the Economic Development Board.”

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Times