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After years on the sidelines, Richland County scores with China Jushi project

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(From Jan. 16 print issue of Columbia Regional Business Report)

China Jushi’s groundbreaking on a $300 million manufacturing facility in southeast Columbia that’s expected to create 400 jobs provided the payoff of Richland County’s decision five years earlier to launch a concerted push for economic development.

“We’re excited to announce the largest capital investment in Richland County since 1984,” former Richland County Council Chairman Torrey Rush said at the Dec. 8 groundbreaking. “It’s a big deal for Richland County.”

Jushi’s first manufacturing site in North America marks the largest economic development announcement in Richland County since Union Camp hatched plans for a $600 million paper mill in Eastover.

Last month’s groundbreaking was the first phase of what is expected to be a total investment by Jushi of $500 million and 800 new jobs, Rush said.

When Jushi’s 80,000-ton production line for fiberglass reinforcements is completed in 2018, a second plant will be built next door. The Zhejiang, China-based company’s second investment will total $200 million and create another 400 jobs, Rush said.

Jushi, which has three plants in China and another in Egypt, is a supplier of fiberglass reinforcements and fabrics to the reinforced plastics industry worldwide and has more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. market. The company’s U.S. unit, Jushi USA, operates a distribution facility at 3130 Bluff Road near the Interstate 77 interchange.

Jushi, which recorded $7 billion in sales in 2015, first started talking to Richland County about locating a manufacturing facility here in 2011. That happen to coincide with the county’s creation of an office of economic development and the hiring of its first economic development director, Nelson Lindsay.

The county made the move after finding itself for years on the sidelines watching major manufacturing projects and distribution centers land in the Lowcountry, Upstate and neighboring counties.

Hiring Lindsay was key, said S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. “Nelson has a firm understanding of what it takes to win,” Hitt said of Lindsay, who has since joined the Commerce Department as director of global business development.

The county also pushed ahead in developing the 900-acre Pineview Industrial Park near the intersection of Pineview and Shop roads where the Jushi plant will be built.

The site, which offers close access to Interstate 77 and is served by a Norfolk Southern line, once was considered for the new State Farmers Market that eventually settled in neighboring Lexington County.

Jeff Ruble, who succeeded Lindsay as county eco-devo chief, said work on the Jushi project slowed down in 2013 and remained on the backburner until last spring.

“It heated back up with a number of emails and we sort of agreed in principle to final negotiations,” Ruble said.

Over Memorial Day weekend Ruble, Lindsay and Wally Wang, a senior project manager at the Commerce Department who speaks Chinese, made the 20-hour flight to Jushi headquarters, located northwest of Shanghai, to finalize the deal.

They left South Carolina on Thursday and returned Sunday, Ruble said. On Tuesday, May 31, county and state officials sent out a press release announcing the project.

Although the industrial park is in an unincorporated section of the county, cooperation from the City of Columbia in providing infrastructure was key in landing the Jushi project, officials said.

Also, the county’s decision to use the Penny Tax Transportation program to fund the extension of Shop Road into the industrial park, widening it and strengthening it to support heavy truck traffic and ease general traffic flow in the area helped secure Jushi’s investment, Rush said.

Other partners in providing infrastructure for the Jushi project include the city of Columbia and South Carolina Electric & Gas.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin noted that Jushi will become the city’s largest sewer and water customer.

“This is a harbinger of things to come,” Benjamin said. “This is a good solid global corporation making a significant investment outside of China.”

Said Ruble: “The important part is that the county really invested in themselves.”

The Jushi project offers an example of what can happen when local entities work together to get a site ready for development and provide infrastructure and incentives to attract investment, Hitt said.

“I call it setting the table,” Hitt said.

Clients want to see where they’ll do business and determine if they can draw from the local labor force the talent needed to run and operate the plant. The Commerce Department can provide resources of the state to support economic development, but there needs to be a full engagement of local government entities and utilities working seamlessly to attract investment, Hitt said.

“Economic development is a local act,” Hitt added. “Companies don’t locate in a state, they locate in a community.”

Landing the Jushi project gets the attention of site consultants who work with companies in scouting locations for facilities ranging from factories to corporate headquarters.

 “I would echo what Bobby said,” said Mark Williams, founder and president of Columbia-based Strategic Development Group. “It’s sort of been a long time for something this big to happen in Richland County. It’s really a big, big win.”   

Gov. Henry McMaster heralded the state’s pluses for attracting new businesses. He noted work is progressing toward expansion of the Port of Charleston, and bragged about the state’s research universities, abundant supply of water, growing capacity to provide electricity, and a technical college system that’s geared to meet industry needs for trained workers.

“We have more potential than any other place in this country,” McMaster said. “We are poised to lead the rest of the nation in good, strong economic development … thanks to partnerships like this one between Richland County and China Jushi.”

Yuqiang Zhang, president of China Jushi, said his company has found the right place to establish a U.S. manufacturing footprint and grow its business.

“Jushi USA will be provided with a good environment for growth and a good talent pool,” Zhang said. “This will be China Jushi’s second largest overseas plant … We’ll do our best to contribute to the local economy.”

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