n one corner of the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, where unemployment figures are among the highest in the nation, the heart of the community is both at stake and on display. A local team of private citizens, backed by a who's who of industrial site specialists, has quietly put together a megasite that could help the area shed its "corridor of shame" label in favor of a path to a bright future.
"The embryo of this project was generated sitting on the beach at Myrtle Beach with my son-in-law during a normal family get-together," says Jim Hurley, president of White Rock Quarries, a major limestone producer with operations stretching across the Southeast. Hurely and that son-in-law, Florence attorney Daryl Corbin, wanted to do something good for the family, for the State of South Carolina "and, more importantly, for Florence." Together with general contractor Ricky Cox, like Corbin a resident with Native American blood, they moved forward.
The metro area suffered a black eye when a stretch of sub-standard school buildings, poverty, poor public health and poor education results saw it labeled the "corridor of shame." Corbin says Wilson High School happens to be next door to the new 1,175-acre (476-hectarse) megasite, an assemblage of former agricultural parcels now dubbed White Hawk Commerce Park. So the White Hawk team paid a visit to then-Florence County School District One Superintendent Larry Jackson, a native of the long-overlooked historically black area surrounding the site.
"He had tears in his eyes," says Corbin. "He said, 'I'm a product of North Florence. I've been praying every day and night for 20 years that somebody would help North Florence, and White Hawk is the answer to my prayers.'"
The group discussed how certain parcels would remain green space, and the possibility of internships for the high school students.
"Students could come to school, look across the road and see a potential future," says Corbin.
Such aspirations abound in communities across the nation, and supply the rich back stories for many of the listings on the following pages of sites measuring 1,000 acres (405 hectares) or larger that are open to industrial development by a single end user.
The visions vary. A modern dairy farm property near Canastota, N.Y., looks to become a renewable energy/agribusiness park. Backers of another New York parcel, WNYSTAMP near Batavia, would dearly love to emulate what happened in the Saratoga County hamlet of Malta, where billions of dollars pour into GlobalFoundries' semiconductor fab. A fully vetted certified site in Southside Virginia — the Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center — continues to up the ante with $5 million worth of training facilities and programs in development.
In Florence, White Hawk project leaders spent a premium of approximately 33 percent to check off all the boxes, and did it in 14 months instead of a more typical two years. Combined with the fact that much of the industrial infrastructure is already there, Hurley says such preparation will save a prospect 12 to 18 months in zoning and permitting time.
Some people look out their car windows at the passing fields and envision golf holes. Others, emboldened by such trends as U.S. corporate onshoring of industrial production and the Panama Canal expansion in 2014, see more.
"We believe from Maine to Florida and east of the Mississippi, there is no site today that is equal to this," says Hurley of the White Hawk parcel.
The project team's penchant for research includes their own land: Ancient cypress and other fossils on Cox's land are under study for their archaeological significance. It also includes the personal variety: Corbin and Cox found out not long ago that they're cousins, both part of the Chaloklowa band of the Chickasaw nation that avoided the forced removals of the 1830s.
The band was recognized by the state in 2005, and is in the process of being recognized by the federal government. Whether that connection might eventually add further value to White Hawk remains to be seen. But kinship to land and place remains in the bloodlines: "White Hawk" is Corbin's son McCoy's Chickasaw name.
If project and community leaders have their way, the site they've prepared will help create jobs for his generation and those to follow.
If the site's ultimate fate is as promising as its preparation, some might even call it the real McCoy.