Steve West, Duke Energy’s director of economic development in South Carolina, is naturally accessible, because that’s what economic developers do. For journalists, however, he can be a tough guy to get a hold of.
“The economic development world is extremely busy,” he told me this summer. “Thank goodness!”
Goodness is coming to the Palmetto State in the form of projects like E. & J. Gallo Winery’s June 2021 decision to invest in a new production, bottling and canning facility and distribution center in Fort Lawn in Chester County. The $423 million investment will create 496 new jobs over the next eight years. The facility will allow Gallo to better meet customer demand on the East Coast, and its proximity to the Port of Charleston means the new location will also serve as a hub for Gallo’s import and export business.
“They determined that our strong manufacturing base and proximity to talent were the key determining factors,” Chester County Council Chair Dr. Wylie Frederick said in a release from the South Carolina Department of Commerce. “Chester County is in a great strategic location along the I-77 corridor between two metros: Charlotte and Columbia.”
“Distribution will be a priority component of this expansion, and fortunately the I-77 region is within a single day’s truck drive of 42% of the U.S. market, including five of the 10 fastest-growing U.S. metro areas,” said I-77 Alliance Interim President and CEO Christopher Finn.
How the Work Gets Done
Partners on the project include the Lancaster & Chester Railroad (L&C) as well as Duke. How pivotal was Duke’s role?
“Duke Energy was very much involved with this project as we faced challenges from an electric standpoint,” says West. “But we found ways to overcome every roadblock encountered and ultimately garnered high praise from Gallo executives and site consultant Mike Mullis for our efforts.”
Indeed, Mullis, the veteran site selector whose J.M Mullis Inc. firm is based in Memphis, said of his work on the Gallo project with the Duke team, “Sandy Martin, Carlo Vargas, Greg Turpin and Richard Armstrong delivered some of the best and most professional work that we have ever seen with an electric utility and its customer-coordinated efforts.”
West shares his notes about the details of Duke’s comprehensive approach:
Since the pandemic, strong levels of corporate expansion interest in South Carolina are coming in such sectors as food & beverage, life sciences, indoor farming, building materials, plastics and data centers, says Duke Energy’s Steve West. But the state is best known for its aerospace and automotive activity. And within automotive, electric vehicle (EV) and EV battery projects are everywhere.
“Like most of the U.S., we are fielding requests for information for numerous EV/battery projects,” says West. “We maintain an inventory of heavy power sites and have shared a lot of information on those. We are able to offer a very competitive rate as well as assistance to obtain a 100% renewable energy goal that is pretty much a requirement for all new projects.”
Other Duke team members shared the following highlights with West:
The state legislature’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved job development credits related to the project. A $16 million Rural Infrastructure Fund grant was also awarded to Chester County to assist with costs. And in May, the S.C. Department of Commerce went before the Joint Bond Review Committee and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority and received authorization for $8 million in bonds to offset costs of off-site mitigation.
It was the sort of all-hands-on-deck attention that any corporate investor would dream of.
“This project serves as a model for the internal teamwork and customer-first mindset necessary to compete and win,” says West. “We value our relationships with all of our public partners including the SC Dept of Commerce, the regional marketing alliances and, of course, our county development agencies as well as the vast network of private entities that contribute significantly to our success. South Carolina has a well-earned reputation of being a ‘can do’ state when it comes to economic development, and we are proud to be a part of this team.
“When asked about Duke’s role in economic development,” he says, “I often respond that we want to be a very good offensive lineman while the state and counties serve as coach and quarterback in the economic development game.”