By Christina Lee Knauss
When the first hard seltzers rolled off the lines at the massive Mark Anthony Brewing facility off Shop Road in November 2021, it marked the culmination of more than a year of feverish work and collaboration between Mark Anthony and Richland County officials.
Construction on the site started in November 2020, and almost exactly a year later, production started on the first cans and bottles of White Claw, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Cayman Jack produced by the Chicago-based company.
That’s what many in the industry would consider a jaw-dropping turnaround time on a construction project that massive, and a result that Richland County officials count as one of the major highlights of their second-best economic development year in history.
The 2021 annual report released by the Richland County Economic Development Office last month showed the county attracted $359.6 million in investment, the second-highest level on record. That milestone is eclipsed only by a record 2020 which saw $638.7 million in investment, the bulk of that coming from the $400 million Mark Anthony project.
Jeff Ruble, director of economic development for Richland County, said the recent successes are the result of more than a decade of hard work, strategizing and planning. The RCDEO did not exist until 2011, but since its formation, the county has benefited from having an office dedicated completely to attracting investment and development to the region.
Ruble said future large-scale projects considering coming to the county could look to the Mark Anthony project as an example of how to get things done quickly.
“Mark Anthony did a good job negotiating with the contractors, Clayco out of St. Louis. It was amazing how fast the progress was from the contractor side of things,” Ruble said. “Mark Anthony also worked closely with the county and the state. Alliance Consulting Engineers did a terrific job of getting the project permitted and built. Overall, it was just their level of organization.”
Danielle Diaz, director of people operations at Mark Anthony, said the company chose Richland County because of its strategic location, support from local leadership and plenty of readily available acreage for the new plant.
“The fast turnaround between groundbreaking and the first product happened because of a lot of teamwork, partnership with the community and the ability to have the proper utilities in place,” Diaz said.
While 2021 didn’t bring any new construction projects as massive as Mark Anthony, construction does play a big part in the economic progress ongoing in the county, with the report detailing several companies planning expansions. One example is Tyson Foods, which announced plans to reestablish operations in Richland County in March 2021 with a $55 million expansion on Bluff Road. The meat-portioning and packing operation will eventually add 330 jobs to the community.
Other companies planning expansions to operations and facilities include Intertape Polymer, American Spiralweld, and AvanTech, according to the report.
Additional major projects in 2021 included building a $4.5 million, one-mile rail spur to Mark Anthony Brewing, the grading of a 300,000-square-foot building pad at Blythewood Industrial Park and the beginning of a large timber management program at the Blythewood site, including both the thinning and harvesting of trees.
Three of the largest new construction projects announced in the county over the past year involve speculative buildings, or large spaces that are built without any specific user signed up to occupy them, Ruble said.
The goal is to have move-in ready space available for manufacturers, warehouse storage or other large clients who are looking to begin operations in the Midlands or relocate here.
Having readily available space is an advantage in an economy where supply-chain issues have driven up construction costs and available industrial real estate is at a premium.
“Speculative buildings are something you’re seeing more of both here in Richland and in Lexington County as well,” Ruble said. “They’re becoming more common for a few reasons. Building them speeds up the local market, and people who have the funds available and supplies are going to go ahead and put a building up because there’s such a lag time right now with construction projects.”
Significant speculative projects in Richland County include Magnus Development Partners’ planned 200,000 square-foot speculative building on property the county owns at Blythewood’s Northpoint Industrial Park. The county also has sold approximately 19 acres of land to Charlotte-based commercial real estate firm Collett for the construction of a 210,000-square-foot speculative building, and there is a proposed sale of 34 acres at the Pineview Industrial Park to St. Louis-based Summit Development, a real estate firm that wants to build more than 400,000 square feet of speculative space.
County officials hope the successes of the last two years will continue in 2022 and beyond, as both the county and the city of Columbia work together on incentive programs to attract large corporate investments to the region.
RCEDO is implementing the Columbia region’s first comprehensive economic development plan, which includes offering opportunities for entrepreneurs, building a strong information technology community and promoting the growth of the region’s technology cluster.
Increased economic development will bring with it more large construction projects countywide, and Ruble stressed that the county is ready because of the planning that has gone on over the past decade.
“We’re prepped for more construction and more economic development because we have done a lot of the heavy lifting already,” Ruble said.i