Ross distribution center gets extension on tax incentives

Workers at Ross Distribution in Fort Mill sort products to be be shipped to Ross Stores.
Workers at Ross Distribution in Fort Mill sort products to be be shipped to Ross Stores.

FORT MILL -- The path for new jobs and more investment in York County has been cleared for the Ross Dress For Less distribution center in Fort Mill.

Ross, York County's largest private employer, was issued a five-year extension on tax incentives by the York County Council last week, suggesting an expansion is possible in the future.

The California-based discount clothing retailer came to York County in 2002 after county officials offered tax breaks in exchange for creating new jobs and substantial economic investment. Since then, the company has invested more than $76 million in a 1.8 million-square-foot distribution center -- the largest of the company's four centers -- and increased its work force to 1,800 employees, according the York County Economic Development Board.

"They've blown away the initial requirement," said Mark Farris, the board's director.

Farris said the extension will allow the company to receive incentives for more investment until 2013. He could not comment on whether additional facilities had been discussed.

Typically, county officials offer incentive packages only to companies that plan to create new jobs or make significant economic investments.

Ross spokeswoman Bobbi Chaville, when asked if the incentive package signaled a pending expansion, said: "I think that's fair."

She said the company's sales increased by 8 percent in 2007, to $6 billion, and as sales volume climbs, expansion at the distribution level will follow.

"I can't give you the specifics of when and where," she said. "But we do intend to grow as our volume increases."

In September, Katie Loughnot, Ross vice president of investor and media relations, said Ross Stores' growth will focus in the Southeast, which bodes well for operations in York County.

The Fort Mill facility, between Gold Hill Road and Carowinds Boulevard, is the only distribution center in the Southeast. Two operate in California, and a third is near Harrisburg, Pa.

With more than 800 stores in 27 states, the company expects 90 new stores to open this year. Loughnot said the chain plans to eventually grow to 1,500 stores. Rock Hill has a Ross Dress For Less retail store at Manchester Village, off Dave Lyle Boulevard.