Dollar Tree could be springboard for Cherokee County

Cherokee County business recruiters figure they have been competitive as a tweener along Interstate 85, but landing a Dollar Tree distribution center has them enjoying some extra attention. With Spartanburg on one side and Charlotte on the other, they see the retailer’s $104 million distribution center and 400 jobs as a possible game changer.

Dollar Tree’s project, which was recently announced and disclosed to the public in May after being initially identified as “Project Evergreen,” has attracted other inquiries, said Jim Cook, the county’s Development Board director.

“We have already had a lot of looks,” Cook said. “We are getting a lot of requests.”

John Moore, whose family owns Upstate Corporate Park and sold Dollar Tree a 214-acre site that is already being graded, said, “We have gotten a ton more attention.”

Dollar Tree plans to employ about 400 people over the next five years and the 1.5 million-square-foot project includes space for possible expansion, Moore said. Earth-moving equipment is already leveling the site, which Dollar Tree purchased for $4.28 million.

Moore said Dollar Tree “wanted to go fast. They are supposed to have this building up by April.” Construction itself is expected to involve about 250 jobs.

Dollar Tree Investor Relations Vice President Randy Guiler declined to comment beyond the Chesapeake, Va., company’s announcement about locating the project in Cherokee County.

County Assistant Administrator Holland Belue said the biggest competitive hurdle has always been “everyone wants to be near where everyone else is: Charlotte, Greenville and Spartanburg.”

Belue said factors in attracting Dollar Tree were “primarily our location and our availability of land, our county’s willingness to work together and partner with the company” and involvement of numerous county departments and officials.

“We learned some things about how we can improve our process to make ourselves more attractive,” Belue said. “We partnered with Spartanburg County Council. The building splits the county line. Spartanburg County said you take the lead. They have been wonderful.

“We are able to learn from some of their successes how we can be successful.”

He said the Dollar Tree “project has let the economic development community know we want to be a player. We are going after companies. We want to be aggressive.”

Cook said success with Dollar Tree hasn’t erased any competitive disadvantages.

“I’m not a private developer, but Spartanburg has got two interstates and the inland port,” Cook said in an interview. “I say I am close to the inland port, but Spartanburg is closer. It’s a bigger county. It’s got better infrastructure. We are going to get some, but we are a small rural county trying to compete with two major metropolitan areas to the north and south of us. Cleveland County, Gaston County and Mecklenburg, there are 2 million people in a metropolitan area just to the north of us. Cleveland County is very competitive as far as land and buildings. They have some spec buildings. They have some great parks. They are doing a bypass around Shelby right now. Although the North Carolina headlines have been their incentive packages aren’t as good as South Carolina, and we are beating the socks off of them; that may be true, but there is still good product, good infrastructure and good workforce just to the other side of me.

Cook said sites in those neighboring counties are also typically a “little bit higher priced. Why not look out a little ways? That’s where I come in.”

Cherokee County has 22 miles of I-85 frontage, much of it undeveloped. A planned third lane on the interstate and interchange upgrades helped attract Dollar Tree and has become a selling point in the recruiting effort, Cook said. The county also offers access to both the S.C. Inland Port at Greer and Charlotte Regional Intermodal Facility at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Cook said County Council members have approved their first spec building, and a $9 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies is opening this fall at the Cherokee County campus of Spartanburg Community College.

“Other than the spec building, the county doesn’t own any public land for industrial development, nor do they own any industrial buildings,” Cook said. “The spec building is new for us. We are doing it because of the lack of product. We have some older buildings. The older textiles, but we do not have a lot of modern class A industrial buildings that I think we could use.”

Garrett Scott, a Colliers International associate, said industrial development is spreading in the Upstate beyond Greenville and Spartanburg, both east and west along I-85 and south along S.C. Highway 290.

“I think Cherokee County is going to be well-positioned to take advantage of economic development in the future,” Scott said.

Cook said he is encouraging owners of potential industrial property to go ahead and prepare it for immediate use.

“Companies want pad ready sites as opposed to we can knock that dirt down and move the trees and imagine a flat field there with water and sewer to it,” Cook said. That way they can “start coming out of the ground tomorrow. Having product or inventory is vital. If you’ve got something to show the odds of you landing a project in my opinion are astronomically higher.”

Cook said terrain is “definitely a challenge in the Upstate.” He said moving a lot of dirt is a cost for a prospect and a relatively flat site helped attract Dollar Tree.

“For 214 acres it could have been a lot worse,” Cook said. “It was definitely a consideration.”

Moore said Dollar Tree also has space for a 500,000-square-foot expansion that “they may or may not do initially.”

Moore said his family in 1999 purchased the almost 600-acre corporate park that straddles the border of Cherokee and Spartanburg counties. Moore said his family has largely marketed the park, former Sunny Slope Peach Farm in Cowpens about 2 miles from Interstate 85. Moore said the most recent previous sale of Upstate Corporate Park property to an industry was in 2007 when Bericap purchased about 30 acres. The German-based manufacturer of plastic caps and closures operates a plant near the Dollar Tree site.

Cherokee County Council last fall purchased 24 acres at the park for a planned spec building.

Moore said the spec building decision by county officials was a “gutsy thing for a county to do. They agreed to run the sewer line to their property and across the road to where Dollar Tree is located, which really allowed Dollar Tree to come here quickly. Without that it would have taken all kinds of red tape to get that done. So we were very fortunate that we were working towards that.”

Moore said he has learned, both from the project and working with the county, that “who your leadership is really matters. Local governments matter. Who your local county administrators are, who your economic people are. What are they doing? How are they approaching things? That really makes a difference. Spartanburg has been doing a lot of projects. But they haven’t really been focusing up here. This eastern part of Spartanburg County has not gotten a lot of activity, but I really think that this is going to be the start of a lot more going on this area.”

Donald Jones, a retiree, lives across the road from the site and is getting to watch the earth movers and trucks from his front porch. Jones said he met Dollar Tree executives at a community barbecue the company held in spring.

“I am satisfied with it,” Jones said. “There will be no difference with me, except I’ll get city water run up now. Maybe I can get off the well. All the trucks will be routed out the main entrance or the back entrance. I won’t even hear them.”

“Four hundred jobs is really going to be good,” he said. “I think it is going to be a good deal all around for everybody.”

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Alyssa BennettDollar Tree could be springboard for Cherokee County