Two companies moving to Fort Mill cited desirable lifestyle in the area

06/16/2014 1:08 PM

06/22/2014 8:38 AM

For two companies leaving Charlotte for Fort Mill, the decision was all about the green – but not in the traditional sense.

Economic deals are usually about dollars, cents and incentives.

But what sealed the deal for the Lash Group and LPL Financial Carolinas was the lifestyle offered by the Anne Springs Close Greenway.

Both companies will build at the Kingsley North business park near the intersection of S.C. 160 and Interstate 77. Their offices will be just minutes from the greenway’s 2,100 acres, where employees can hike, bike, fish, camp, ride horses and kayak.

The undeveloped 530-acre office park gives each company the chance to build what they have always wanted.

“We found the perfect home in Kingsley,” said Tracy Foster, president of the Lash Group, a health care consulting firm. “We can design our dream house.” The 250,000-square-foot dream home is expected to be open by March 2016.

Mark Casady, chairman and CEO of LPL Financial, said the Kingsley site will allow his company to replicate what it recently finished in San Diego, a building that has “net zero” energy consumption and offers employees a variety of amenities such as a fitness center, a cafe and possibly on-site day care. The regional headquarters is expected to be open in 2016.

Mark Vitner, a managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo, said Monday’s announcements show “Fort Mill is the new Cary (N.C).” Companies will come not because of the deals offered, but because of the lifestyle the area has, he said.

The two announcements were part of what Gov. Nikki Haley called the ultimate economic development hat trick.

Earlier in the day, Giti Tire of Singapore announced it will build a plant in Chester County, investing $560 million and creating 1,700 jobs.

The Lash Group plans to invest up to $90 million for its new headquarters and possibly a second building. The group will initially employ about 1,200 in Fort Mill, expandable to a 2,400-person workforce in several years. The company intends to keep about 600 workers in Charlotte through 2019.

LPL Financial intends to invest at least $150 million and create about 3,000 jobs in the next several years. The company has 1,000 workers in Charlotte, with those jobs moving to Fort Mill. The company also has offices in San Diego and Boston. Casady said all of the company’s growth is slated for the Fort Mill office.

Monday’s announcements did include the traditional green factors. Each company is receiving incentives from the state and York County to relocate and expand in Fort Mill.

Both companies will qualify for job development credits, which give firms money to help offset the cost of locating a facility, buying equipment or training staff for up to 10 years. The credits are based on the number of jobs created.

In the Lash Group’s case, existing jobs in Charlotte that come to Fort Mill will be eligible for a $1,500 credit per job, said Bobby Hitt, the state’s secretary of commerce. New jobs are eligible for the full credit, which can be as much as $5,000 per job.

The jobs at LPL Financial will qualify for the full credit, Hitt said.

To help with development of the site, the S.C. Coordinating Council on Economic Development awarded York County $4 million in grants for work at the Kingsley sites.

York County also is expected to give tax breaks to the company. An ordinance to reduce the two companies’ property tax was on Monday’s York County Council agenda. Typically, a York County fee-in-lieu agreement cuts a company’s property tax bill by 47 percent over 30 years.

The saving could be more if the prospect qualifies for a “super” fee-in-lieu arrangement. Among the criteria for such an agreement are creating 200 new jobs and investing $400 million, according to the state Department of Commerce.

LPL has ties to York County as Family Trust Federal Credit Union uses its services. So does former York County Council member David Bowman, an independent financial adviser. Bowman and Lee Gardner, CEO of Family Trust, said LPL does the “back office” operations that allow financial advisers to focus on the needs of their clients and not the paperwork.

LPL also will continue to maintain its ties to Charlotte. Casady said he expects many of his current employees to commute to Fort Mill.

Hitt said that’s “how economic development works. Some will come from Charlotte.” He said the two announcements represent “balanced metro growth.”

Foster and Casady declined to say if Charlotte or North Carolina officials tried to retain their companies.

Officials with the N.C. Economic Development Board said Monday they tried to keep the companies from moving but were unsuccessful.

Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk said he preferred “laptops to rooftops,” referring to the need to add jobs and not just residents to the Fort Mill tax base. He said growth will come to Fort Mill whether “it’s rain or shine. We’re the place to be regardless.”

What he likes about these companies is the stable, well-paying jobs they offer.

Michael Johnson, who represents the area on the York County Council, said Monday’s announcements changed the county. “We’ve gone from $10 distribution jobs to $23-an-hour white-collar jobs.”

But, he said, if “we don’t build on today, then the announcements are not relevant.”

The Charlotte Observer contributed.

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