Will new businesses transform York County?

July 14, 2013 

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley visited the new Physicians Choice Laboratory Services facility in Rock Hill's Riverwalk Business Park Monday. Joe Wiegel, the company's president of operations, left, gives Haley a tour of the lab area of the new headquarters.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

Transformative and transformational -- they’re the buzz words of choice these days for those who want to move and shake York County.

IRock, the Rock Hill school district’s digital learning initiative, is transformative. It will change how Rock Hill students learn, school officials say, giving them skills that will help them to compete for the rest of their lives.

The Knowledge Park is transformative. It’s more than a “park” linking Winthrop University to downtown Rock Hill. It’s an economic development strategy that will change how city residents work, live and play, proponents claim.

Last week, three “transformative” economic development projects were heralded. Each project has the chance to transform its segment of York County. Each project also has the possibility of just transporting jobs, moving them from one location to another, a result less worthy of trumpeting.

Those who want to move and shake York County oohed and aahed last week over the opening of Physicians Choice Laboratory Services in the Riverwalk Business Park.

The $24-million investment includes more than 100,000 square feet of newly constructed office and lab space as well as a dramatic entrance/atrium that will serve as the company’s conference room and as a place to brainstorm.

Physicians Choice Laboratory has the potential to transform the York County employment landscape. The new space allows Physicians Choice to expand its services from a toxicology lab to a “personalized” medical laboratory, capable of genetic and DNA studies, say company officials.

Physicians Choice moved from Charlotte, bringing 197 employees. It plans to expand to 300 by the end of the year.

While Physicians Choice will continue to recruit regionally, it will be working with Winthrop University and York Tech to make sure their graduates are trained in the skills the lab needs.

That’s the kind of training that could transform our work force.

A day later, many of those who attended the Physicians Choice opening gathered at the corner of Elizabeth Lane and East Main Street in downtown Rock Hill.

The rain stopped briefly, allowing Comporium to announce it was “breaking mud” on its latest project, Fountain Park Place, a four-story, 48,000-square-foot office-retail building.

The building is, city officials claim, the first significant construction project in downtown in more than 30 years. The $9 million building is part of the ambitious Downtown East plan that some say will transform downtown. The plan also calls for a multi-million dollar park with a dramatic water fountain, a hotel, more office and retail space and a performing arts center that could be shared by the community and Winthrop University.

It’s a public-private partnership with the city investing its money in the park and a parking deck behind the Fountain Place Park building.

Downtown East could transform Rock Hill’s core, but so far, of the 150 people that Comporium says will work in its new building, most already work in Rock Hill. Comporium officials would like new-to-Rock Hill tenants, but they are savvy businessmen. If someone wants to move across town to new digs, transporting jobs, Comporium will likely lease them space.

On Monday night, the York County Council will consider selling the county’s “spec” building off Dave Lyle Boulevard to a German manufacturer, Coroplast

The 40,000-square-foot building in the Antrim Business Park doesn’t even have a floor. When the county built it using $1.2 million in utility tax credit funds from the York County Electric Cooperative and Comporium, it didn’t have enough money for the floor.

Nonetheless, Coroplast liked what it saw and wants to invest $12 million and hire up to 150 people for its first American manufacturing facility.

Economic developers say Coroplast is the best kind of company to recruit: new money, new jobs and looking to expand. The ink isn’t even dry on the deal and Coroplast officials are reportedly looking to buy more land at Antrim to expand the spec building.

The Coroplast investment could help transform our community as York County officials plan to invest the money from the sale of the building into another “spec” building in the East York Industrial Park. A successful “spec” building there would bring needed jobs to western York County.

A successful public “spec” building may convince private developers to again enter the spec market in York County. Much of the nice office space on either side of Interstate 77 in the county was initially built on spec by private developers.

None of last week’s announcements happened overnight. Each was a the result of long, hard work by local officials and developers – and a measure of good luck too. Regardless of whether they are transformative, transformational, it’s hard to argue with projects. Combined they will be investing $45 million and promising up to 600 new jobs -- numbers that could ripple through our economy and make a difference.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 •  dworthington@heraldlonline.com

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