Economic development heads west

Saddle up, York. Strap on your stirrups, Clover. Economic development in York County is heading west.

When York County Council inked a deal to bring truckmaking giant Freightliner to a tract on S.C. 274 near Allison Creek last month, county officials hailed the plan as a benchmark for growth in western York County.

But such a declaration raises a major question: How can 340 sales and marketing jobs in an office building to be geographically located in the eastern half of York County be of any help to the hard working folks on the western side?

Answer: Freightliner probably won't have an immediate direct impact, but local officials are hoping it is the beginning of an economic progress wave in rural western York County.

Freightliner is opening a door that county officials believe may some day welcome the niche industries that can thrive in western York County, bringing jobs to hundreds, if not thousands, of workers.

Mark Farris, director of the York County Economic Development Board, said the Freightliner move is significant for western parts of the county because it will be the first premium office-park environment in York County to locate outside the Interstate 77 corridor. He's hoping it gives future prospects an example of a successful office park in another part of York County.

"Ten years ago, we never would have been considered for Class A office space," Farris said. "Now, we have a seat at that table."

If the rural area west of Lake Wylie is attracting major developments, he believes that could become a springboard for more progress further west.

County Councilman Tom Smith, a Lake Wylie developer, said the Freightliner offices have a chance to lead the charge in an area ripe for development. With a road widening project expanding S.C. 274 to five lanes from Newport to S.C. 55 near Crowders Creek about to begin, Smith believes the surrounding areas soon will see many mixed use developments sprouting.

"It's a small start," he said about Freightliner, "but maybe they can anchor future developments."

Industrial park, headquarters rumored

Charlotte developer Crescent Resources owns hundreds of acres along the S.C. 274 corridor, and Smith said the company has big plans for mixed uses of the properties. An industrial park has been discussed south of Campbell Road, he said.

There also is speculation Freightliner one day could relocate most of its Portland, Ore.-based headquarters to the York County site. But company officials have maintained those 2,000-plus jobs will stay put for now.

Economic development officials have suggested residential housing demand could increase between Lake Wylie and York and Clover as Freightliner employees, many who are accustomed to the rural lifestyle of Oregon, consider relocating with Freightliner. Two waves of prospective employees already have toured the area and met with real estate and school leaders this month.

Freightliner will operate out of a temporary office off Gold Hill Road in Fort Mill until the permanent space is constructed. Operations in Fort Mill are slated to be under way next summer.

More infrastructure needed

While Freightliner's move bodes well for progress in central York County, more infrastructure may be needed to attract industry further west.

"Freightliner's not going to be the saving grace," said County Council vice-chairman Joe Cox, a former Sharon mayor who now represents the western side of the county. "But maybe in 10 years, if everything falls into place, the jobs will come."

Cox said the lack of water, sewer and adequate roads hampers growth west of York. He said the widening of S.C. 5 from York to Blacksburg, a project scheduled to wrap up next year, will adequately connect Interstate 85 to I-77. But he contends major industries will need more than five-lane highways to do business.

"You're not going to find a company that will hire 400 workers at three shifts a day that operates on a septic tank," he said.

Despite his concerns, Cox acknowledges the Freightliner offices can be a valuable recruiting tool in the future.

"Let's see what happens in a few years," he cautioned. "But this is a good sign."