Transportation, Workforce Draw Distributors to North Eastern South Carolina
QVC in Florence, SC
QVC workers ship 1,000 packages an hour out of a 1.4-million-square-foot fulfillment center in Florence, SC.
“There are a lot of good workers here,” says Marion Ford, director of operations for Institution Food House's Florence distribution center.
With its strategic location halfway between Miami and New York and exceptional transportation system, the North Eastern Strategic Alliance (NESA) Region of South Carolina is becoming a hub for companies looking to save money while moving products quickly throughout the U.S. and beyond.
The region is home to an array of nationally known distribution and logistics companies, including: QVC, which ships 1,000 packages an hour out of its 1.4-million-square-foot Florence fulfillment center; Institutional Food House, which services the Southeast from its 340,000-square-foot Florence warehouse; Pepsi-Cola, which has five distribution centers in the region; CitiTrends, which houses one of two nationwide clothing distribution centers in Darlington; Harbor Freight Tools, a tool distributor in Dillon; and Wal-Mart, which operates a grocery distribution center in Pageland three times the size of one of its superstores.
A Distribution Dream
These companies have come to the region for several reasons: inexpensive real estate, an affordable workforce, appealing incentives and a wealth of transportation options. Top logistical advantages of the region include:
• Proximity to major U.S. markets: The NESA Region sits halfway between New York City and Miami on Interstate 95, allowing companies to reach most of the Eastern Seaboard within eight hours. Interstate 20 offers similarly fast access to cities across the Southeast, from Atlanta to Dallas. Plans are in the works for another interstate, I-73, that would provide direct access to the Great Lakes region.
• International shipping: The Port of Georgetown provides international cargo shipping as well as open and covered storage. The bulkbreak port has four berths and a direct on-terminal CSX rail connection. The NESA region also offers more than 350 miles of Class I rail service with access to the Port of Charleston, which provides direct connections to Eastern markets and has five terminals – three container, two bulkbreak – with access to five interstates and the ability to handle post-Panamax vessels. Shippers can also take advantage of nearby ports in Wilmington, N.C., Savannah, Ga. and Jacksonville, Fla.
• Access to airports: Florence Regional Airport serves commercial jets and private aircraft, as does Myrtle Beach International Airport, which recently opened a new general aviation terminal and is expanding other terminals to keep up with increased air traffic. International airports are also available in nearby Columbia, Charleston and Charlotte.
Along with a well-connected transportation network, locations in North Eastern South Carolina are also inexpensive, with fully served sites costing as little as $3,500 an acre complemented by incentive packages including tax credits of up to $9,000 per job. Many sites also offer interstate and four-lane highway frontage.
Easy access to key U.S. markets and the quality of the workforce are the two biggest reasons Institution Food House – the largest food service distributor in the Southeast – has continued to operate out of the region, says Marion Ford, director of operations for IFH's Florence distribution center.
“There are a lot of good workers here,” Ford says, noting that the decline of tobacco and textile trades that once dominated the region has left many diligent, eager workers.
An Experienced Workforce
More than a million people live within 60 miles of Florence, the region's geographic center and where I-95 and I-20 intersect. Thousands of these workers are experienced in warehousing and distribution, and their desired median wage is just $10.75 an hour.
Not only can employers tap into the existing talent pool, but they can also rely on one of the nation’s oldest and best workforce development programs, ReadySC. Created by the state in 1961, the program provides fast, cost-effective training tailored to employers’ needs. The region's labor market is ideal for employers, Ford says.
“Since this is a right-to-work state, you don’t have a lot of the organized labor that impedes what you need to do,” he says. “The business climate is also good for economic development. There’s not a lot of posturing. We’ve got a lot of businesspeople who have gone into politics, and they understand what businesses need.”