Fort Mill leaders consider more growth incentives

Two planned corporate headquarters projects at the Kingsley Park North business park – and the $260 million investment they represent – have given Fort Mill leaders a taste of what economic and other incentives can accomplish.

Now they want more.

The Fort Mill Town Council and members of the Fort Mill Economic Council, a non-profit economic development group, have been discussing working together to attract more businesses and targeted growth downtown. Their talks have centered on a priority investment district – an area encompassing a roughly one-mile radius from Main Street where the town would provide incentives for business and urban residential projects.

There are parts of Fort Mill where businesses will locate almost regardless of town efforts due to economic factors, town planning director Joe Cronin said. The investment district would focus on the central, most historic part of Fort Mill.

“This is not a town-wide approach,” he said.

Still only a topic for discussion, the district would need a name, officials said. Early frontrunners are Millstone Village District, Mill Town Village, Mill Town Square and Fort Mill Town Center.

What would it do?

Wink Rea, a member of the economic council, sees state business investment incentives as an opportunity for Fort Mill.

“You can rest assured that these were used in our successful recruitment of LPL and the Lash Group,” he said.

Last month, LPL Financial and the Lash Group announced moves to the 626-acre Kingsley Park North at S.C. 160 and Interstate 77.

The Lash Group, a health care consulting firm, plans to invest up to $90 million and initially employ about 1,200 people in Fort Mill, expandable to a 2,400-person work force over several years.

LPL Financial Carolinas plans to spend at least $150 million to build its regional headquarters, bring 1,000 jobs from Charlotte with hopes of expanding to about 3,000 jobs over time.

Leaders of both companies saw the Anne Springs Close Greenway and significant reductions in county and town taxes as incentives to relocate.

Fort Mill has options to draw more business downtown. There are incentives for textile rehabilitation, corporate headquarters, historic preservation, job credits, corporate income tax credits and post-improvement grants. State law allows the town to offer up to a 25 percent tax reduction and freezes property value for a period of time.

The town might offer special services, like waived or reduced fees for business, or expedited permitting.

“Time is money,” Rea said. “When a developer is looking to build in a municipality and they’re looking at Rock Hill or Lancaster County, that’s something they look at.”

A town incentive program would be based on the capital investment a business would make in Fort Mill, Cronin said. The town wouldn’t want to throw money at just any project that comes, he said, but those that could boost its tax base, total jobs and overall economy.

“You have to have goals and a public purpose,” Cronin said.

Promoting Fort Mill

Bringing business into the new downtown district would be easier, town spokeswoman Kimberly Starnes said, if businesses already know the area.

“We’ve never promoted a certain district before,” she said. “This is something new.”

The town might use events, concerts, real estate agent and small business liaison partnerships to promote the district. It could have its own app. There could be a “murder mystery” or “restaurant week” event, or a food truck run. The district would have its own website and directional signs around town.

Important to drawing new business would be gaining the support of existing ones in the district, Starnes said.

“Once you get the businesses to buy in,” she said, “then you get the citizens to buy in.”

The town would take lessons from events like the South Carolina Strawberry Festival, as well as past ventures that haven’t been as successful, in creating new events to draw people downtown.

“We’re talking about sustainable economic development,” said Town Councilwoman Guynn Savage. “We’re talking about people coming here to stay here.”