The Southeast Regional Industrial Park, a 160-acre property three miles west of Whiteville, now holds the distinction of being “triple” certified as a destination for consumer foods and beverage makers. In late 2015, Duke Energy and Ohio-based Austin Consulting awarded the property designation as a “Shovel Ready Site for the Food and Beverage Industry.” The distinction builds on earlier industry-ready certifications the park has earned from Garner Economics, an Atlanta-based consultancy, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
“When it comes to properties ready-made for food and beverage manufacturing, I don’t know of any that have been more thoroughly vetted by the industry’s location experts than ours,” said Gary Lanier, executive director of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission. “Every technical specification today’s companies look for has been closely examined and documented. Our Southeast Regional Industrial Park is ready- to-go.”
Austin Consulting, a unit of KajimiUSA Group, provides location advice and site-selection services to numerous global companies across a variety of industries. Its food and beverage clients have included Coca-Cola USA, McIlhenny Company and Russell Stover Candies. The firm’s evaluation of properties for shovel-ready certification includes 200 critical variables across major asset categories that include ownership, utility service, property characteristics, transportation service, community features and environmental readiness.
“As part of the process, Austin Consulting performed detailed field investigations of the site and conducted numerous meetings with economic development and utility officials at the city and county levels,” said Frank Spano, managing director of Austin, in a company letter to Columbus County leaders. “[We] firmly believe that a company or a site selector interested in a southeastern U.S. location can significantly decrease the amount of time, expense and risk during the site selection process by reviewing the information contained in this report.”
Duke Energy, an economic development partner to the county, engaged Austin Consulting to review Southeast Regional Park as part of a site readiness initiative the utility is considering. “We were experimenting with several target-industry certifications, including food processing, advanced manufacturing and data,” explained Randy Broome, a Charlotte-based consultant who works with Duke Energy’s site readiness programs. Properties in Winston-Salem and Kershaw County, S.C., also have been certified as shovel-ready for food processors pursuant to Duke Energy’s collaboration with Austin Consulting. “We think the designation has added real value to these sites,” Broome said.
The Duke/Austin certification comes on top of a 2013 study by Atlanta-based Garner Economics, LLC, and its partner Primus Builders that resulted in Southeast Regional Park’s designation as a Certified Food Site. Also, in April of that year, the North Carolina Department of Commerce renewed the park’s status as a North Carolina Certified Site, a risk-reducing and time-saving benefit available to arriving operations.
Beside the industry-specific certifications are several other key assets that food and beverage manufacturing facilities crave: surplus utilities, port proximity and access to agricultural resources. “Southeast Regional Industrial Park has huge water and sewer capacity, as well as significant natural gas,” Lanier says. “These things are the lifeblood of that industry.” The park also comes with ample power courtesy of a Duke Energy substation on the property.
Also setting the park apart is the convenience by which Columbus County food manufacturers can serve hungry consumers around the world. “With its mid-Atlantic location, Southeast Regional Industrial Park has access to North American markets up and down the East Coast,” said Harry Foley, chairman of the Columbus County Economic Development Commission. “But the Port of Wilmington is just an hour away, connecting companies here with the world’s food distribution network.”
The Southeast Regional Park sits amid vast and fertile agricultural lands capable of ensuring reliable supplies of farm commodities from soybeans and sweet potatoes to blueberries, pecans and Muscadine grapes. “This region can grow just about anything a food processor would want to package,” said Foley.
North Carolina’s consumer foods and beverage manufacturing economy is a $20 billion industry, according to the Department of Commerce, with some $1.4 billion of its product exported.
Contact: Gary Lanier