Congratulations to Sumter, S.C., which recently landed a state-of-the-art, clean $500 million manufacturing plant and the 1,700 jobs that come with it.
Sumter has a great site, a great sense of community and a local city government with a positive attitude toward job creation for its citizens. With this growth, Sumter’s immediate area will experience a positive fiscal influx of capital that will be realized by its schools, retail outlets, the local government and the taxpayers.
With the good news for Sumter, however, comes the not-so-good news for Richmond Hill. We have an equal or better site for this new employer, but we were eliminated because our site, the Belfast Commerce Centre, does not have the water and sewer in place or a future date of when it will be available.
One of the site-selection representatives for the company told me and several other Bryan County citizens that Richmond Hill would have been in the running for this manufacturer if Belfast Commerce Centre would have had a timeline to have the utilities in place.
This is about the third industry within the past few months that we have missed due to the uncertainty surrounding the water and sewer utilities. In other words, we recently have missed out on opportunities to attract roughly 2,500 jobs.
With that staggering statistic, let’s look at a little of the history of the project.
TerraPointe, the wholly owned real estate subsidiary of Rayonier and owner of Belfast Commerce Centre (about 900 acres), has endeavored to work with the city of Richmond Hill to have this proposed park annexed into the city.
The land currently is located in the county. Bryan County officials have agreed to step aside and have the parcel annexed by the city. They realize that for infrastructure purposes, this park would be better suited to be in the city limits due to location and available adjacent utility connections and capacities.
TerraPointe has been very accommodating to deal with during this entire process. It also has expressed its desire to positively support the community as well as its willingness to donate land for a new fire station when the need arises. This industrial park also would serve as a catalyst to speed up the process for the I-95 interchange at Belfast Siding Road.
Now, here is my version of why the Belfast Commerce Centre still is not online with utilities in place and landing businesses with the subsequent jobs for Richmond Hill:
During several meetings within the past few months, much progress was made toward moving this project being online. Mayor Harold Fowler was a positive leading figure from the city’s side in regard to helping this project become a reality – he has a “can do” attitude and I thank him for his enthusiasm.
At the same time, Richmond Hill City Manager Mike Melton has been anything but cooperative and less than motivated for this project to get off the ground. Additionally, council members Jimmy Hires and Marilyn Hodges (incumbents who are up for re-election) are against this project that would broaden and diversify our tax base to reduce the burden placed on residential property taxes for needed government services.
It is unimaginable that during these economic times, elected officials, who have been responsible for the debt burden the city finds itself in, are hindering the very job creation that could provide the tax base to help retire that debt. They have openly – and disingenuously – stated that this park would cost the city millions of dollars. This definitely is a false statement because TerraPointe has agreed to underwrite the infrastructure financing to insulate existing city taxpayers.
Additionally, Atlanta Gas Light, realizing this park’s positive potential, already has installed gas lines to the site at no expense to the city. And council members Van Hunter and Russ Carpenter are supportive of this project. They realize the positive merits that will be generated.
In closing, this project has been put in a holding pattern due to the unwillingness of some elected and hired officials to embrace jobs and increased revenue coming to Richmond Hill. TerraPointe has pulled back due to the lack of positive support and now is taking this time to conduct additional economic studies and development options.
In my opinion, they probably are waiting for the Nov. 8 elections to see if there hopefully will be a more supportive city government.
Register is a member of the Development Authority of Bryan County.