Success in Site
For Mark Williams, Bridgestone Americas’ decision to build its giant off-road radial tire plant in Aiken County is a case study on the importance of site certification and related site due diligence in attracting new building and expansion projects to South Carolina.
Williams is president of Strategic Development Group, Inc., a Columbia-based consulting firm specializing in site selection for manufacturing and headquarters facilities throughout the United States. The firm assisted Bridgestone Americas with finding a competitive location for its off-road plant.
“Site certification is often a critical tool for successfully locating building and expansion projects,” Williams said. “For companies such as Bridgestone, access to certified sites reduces overall site location risk, saves time and reduces site development costs.”
The term “certified site” refers to a property that has met specific criteria developed by a state agency or professional site consultants. Such sites are sometimes referred to as “shovel ready.” While there are no national or international standards, sites are
typically evaluated on criteria such as availability, zoning, utility infrastructure, sub-soil conditions, permits and site characteristics such as the presence of wetlands, flood plains and endangered species. South Carolina has long been a national leader in certifying sites for industrial development.
“We also look at whether the site’s shape is conducive to development and future expansions,” Williams said. “Another consideration is transportation access for employees, raw materials and product shipments. And we want to make sure the site’s buffer is adequate for the type of businesses likely to consider the site. By conducting thorough due diligence in concert with quality site certification programs, we can significantly enhance the probability that the site can be developed in a reasonable amount of time without significant unexpected surprises.”
For the Bridgestone project, the Strategic Development Group conducted a multi-state site search that focused primarily on certified sites. Not long after the search began, the firm identified a 550-acre green field site that had been certified by the South Carolina certification program. The site was near Bridgestone’s passenger and light truck tire plant near Graniteville.
“Bridgestone considered building the off-road plant adjacent to its passenger tire plant, but determined that the existing site was not suitable,” Williams said. “If the adjacent property had not conducted site due diligence via state certification prior to the site search, Bridgestone would likely have chosen another site with necessary site due diligence completed, perhaps in another state. Because of their construction deadlines, there wasn’t time to conduct the due diligence generated by the certification process.”
SCANA is involved in the site certification process in a variety of ways, according to Scott Neely, a SCANA economic development and local government representative.“In some cases we assist with the cost of certifying sites located within our service territory,” Neely said. “We also work closely with engineering companies hired by counties or regional alliances to coordinate the site certification process. We often respond to inquiries regarding existing electric and natural gas infrastructure in the vicinity of sites.”
Neely added, “In the site selection process, clients are generally risk adverse. The site certification process is intended to reduce risk by providing a client with a wealth of information about a potential location. Also, site certification can impact a client’s speed to market. The information generated during the site certi cation process can enable a client to start construction earlier at a certified site in comparison to a site where no due diligence has been completed.”
Williams said the site certification process also has benefits for local communities.“I think the process helps prepare the community for what happens when a large company decides to build in the county,” Williams said. “Site certification creates significant value for all involved.”
South Carolina’s rigorous site certification program sets it apart from other states, according to Neely.“Manufacturers and other large businesses can locate anywhere in the world,” Neely said. “We compete globally, so we must offer a world class product to be successful. South Carolina’s site certification process is quite rigorous, so clients know that the ‘certified site’ label has meaning in this state.”