Indian Land civic group pitched on incentive to lure industry

Special to the Fort Mill TimesMarch 24, 2014 

Keith Tunnell

— Lancaster County officials are seeking incentives to drive more industry to the area.

South Carolina has the highest property taxes on manufacturers in the country, and that’s the first thing that needs to change, said Keith Tunnell, Lancaster County Economic Development director. At 10.5 percent, the state’s property taxes on industry are four to six times higher than neighboring counties in North Carolina and other Southeastern states competing with South Carolina for manufacturers .

The tax rate on manufacturers increased after Act 388, which shifted funding for public schools from residential property taxes to sales and business property taxes, was passed by the S.C. Legislature in 2006.

“There were a lot of unintended consequences of Act 388,” said Julie Scott, spokeswoman for the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce. She agreed with Tunnell that the state’s tax levy on industry stymies efforts to attract business – and jobs – to the county.

Tunnell spoke during a recent Indian Land Action Council meeting about the importance of having incentives to drive businesses to Lancaster County. Lancaster County needs to attract more commercial and industrial business to balance the residential growth, he said. It’s also more cost-effective for the county when calculating the cost of providing services to residential developments versus commercial developments, Tunnel said. According to him, industry costs 30 cents for every dollar paid in taxes while homes valued less than $300,000 have an estimated cost of $1.25 for every $1 generated in property taxes.

An adequate mix of housing, industrial and retail-commercial should always be the goal when planning future growth and opportunity, he said.

Having a good mix of price-points on housing is also important as the number of rooftops dictate the amount of retail-commercial business coming to the area, Tunnell said.

“To compete we have to provide a better, lower priced land position, state incentives have to be added to the mix and local property taxes have to be competitive,” he said.

The county determines what incentives to offer companies based on jobs, wages, total investment and the positive impact the project will have on the community, Tunnell said. Companies receive no cash incentives from the county and only receive incentives, mostly tax breaks of around 4 percent or infrastructure perks, after investing in the project and paying taxes.

“No project during my tenure has been approved for incentives that didn’t pay taxes in year one and there has always been a positive cost benefit to the county,” Tunnell said.

One possible state incentive would be a job development credit that provides a percentage rebate of the payroll taxes to a company for 10 years, Tunnell said.

The county does offer incentive for businesses looking to save on wage costs, County Councilman Brian Carnes said. The county minimum wage average, which companies are required to offer pay at least equal to, is slightly lower than in York County. While wages aren’t the main driving factor for businesses coming to Lancaster County, Carnes said it is one aspect they consider when deciding where to locate.

County and state incentives together help make South Carolina locations attractive to most clients, Tunnell said.

Lancaster County sees growth

Not that there hasn’t been any growth locally, officials said.

New industrial parks, office parks and available buildings help make Lancaster County competitive, Tunnell said.

“We currently have more projects in our pipeline than ever before,” he said.

The County’s Business Retention and Expansion program, headed by Elaine McKinney, assists existing industry with a variety of issues and concerns and ensures the Economic Development Corporation works with them to expand their operations, Tunnell said.

“Keeping the companies you do have is just as important as recruiting new industry to the community,” he said.

Incentives, a strong economic development team and political leadership that support economic development have been key to Lancaster County’s success, Tunnell said.

The county recently passed the 7 percent funding plan to build a fund to support new parks, speculative buildings and initiatives, Tunnell said. The county is also nearing a decision on new offices for the economic development staff.

The county is focusing on increasing its budget as well, Tunnell said.

“When over 80 percent of new projects want to go into an existing building, communities that invest in new industrial parks and spec buildings will reap the benefits as we are coming out of this recession,” he said.

Tunnell said he hopes an overlay district, with its new rules and regulations, will require standards for development of properties, building construction, limiting signage and other policies that will help make Indian Land an attractive area for office projects.

As far as retail growth, Indian Land residents will soon have a Hickory Tavern, which has several locations in the Charlotte area, including one just outside Fort Mill in Steele Creek. It will open by the Publix on 521, County Councilman Larry McCullough said.

“It’s a very good restaurant,” he said. “They do a good job in the Charlotte area.”

Indian Land is a prime spot for restaurants as many residents are looking for better options, McCullough said.

“Residents are anxious and eager for quality restaurants in the area,” he said. “There are a lot of good things coming.”

McCullough said the county wants more local attractions for residents.

“We like for people to embrace and be part of the community,” he said.

Jobs are key

Lancaster County ranks sixth in South Carolina’s 46 counties with more than 7,500 jobs created, Tunnell said. Unemployment dropped from 18.6 percent in June 2009 to 7.7 percent as of December.

As growth continues and jobs become available, training programs are needed to provide skilled workers to fill positions, especially in welding and technical areas, Tunnell said.

“Many companies are having a hard time finding qualified workers such as welders, CNC machine operators and other high-tech skills,” he said.

“York Tech and the state of South Carolina need to improve in these vital areas and make certain that our tech schools are not just meeting but exceeding the needs of our local industry.”

Quality welders are needed in positions such as those available at Thomas and Betts Corp. in Lancaster, McCullough said.

“There is still plenty of work left to do and we need to refocus the entire region on workforce training,” Tunnell said.

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