‘Jasper County is strong’: Leaders tout development, port’s future
Jasper’s growth and appealing future was touted at the State of Jasper County breakfast at Hilton Head Lakes.
“Jasper County is strong,” said Marty Sauls, Chamber of Commerce president and Jasper County Council Chairman.
Wednesday’s event, hosted by the Jasper County Chamber of Commerce, featured Sauls, Ridgeland Mayor Joey Malphrus and Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams, who spoke about capital investments, public safety and burgeoning development.
Malphrus focused on public safety, citing the effectiveness of the town of Ridgeland’s security cameras, which were installed last fall. The $80,000 investment, paid through the U.S. Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture (drug fund), has helped town police recover stolen vehicles, find missing people and locate suspected gang members.
“In my opinion safety and security of our citizens is government’s most important function,” Malphrus said.
Malphrus, who encouraged those in attendance to view daily crime reports on the police department’s website (ridgelandpd.com), said continued partnerships with the city of Hardeeville and the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s office, including the continuation of the career criminal prosecution program that was established in 2010, are vital to keeping the public safe.
“Cooperation is important,” he said.
Malphrus, who said the town is in “strong, sound financial standing,” noted the fire department’s upcoming remodeling plans (which will be in three phases) that will alleviate its tight quarters.
He also thanked all who helped during Hurricane Matthew, including the first-responders, National Guard and state agents who kept the county safe. He acknowledged Thomas Heyward Academy Headmaster Marilyn Davis for allowing the National Guard to use the school’s facility during the Category 2 storm.
Future of optimism
Williams said this year will solidify Hardeeville’s “reputation as a city that is facing its future with optimism, careful planning and financial prudence.”
Several highlights included the announcement of April 8 as the opening of the new library on Main Street in Hardeeville; plans for expansion of the police headquarters and municipal court; upgrades to the football’s turf (natural grass to synthetic turf) that will help expand partnerships with area sports programs; and a $360,000 grant will help bring water and sewer lines to Commerce Park at Exit 5.
With 13 development agreements covering 27,000 acres of “prime real estate,” Williams said the city is a great spot for businesses.
“Our phones are ringing with prospective business partners,” he said.
Williams said strong interest at Argent Boulevard and Hilton Head Lakes South could mean the city’s roughly 5,500 residents could triple in 10 years.
Two hotels and two food establishments are expected near Exit 8 and Southern Carolina Economic Alliance has marketed Commerce Park, the Sherwood Tract and River Port – a total of 7,000 acres – which has drawn interest from “a number of potential clients.”
The Moody’s rating upgrade from A2 to A1 significantly helps the city moving forward with capital improvements. And Williams emphasized work is being done to clean up the city, citing having a Code Enforcement Official and the Youth Council’s plans to eliminate litter.
Williams also noted better communication with the public, led by the new Nixle alert system that updates residents on emergencies, events and traffic problems.
“A strong Hardeeville will bring to Jasper County new and better paying jobs, a larger and higher skilled work force, new tax revenues for infrastructure and our schools,” Williams said. “Perhaps we can even begin to eliminate the poverty that has plagued our county for generations and bring tax relief to our residents and our businesses. And we will continue to lower our millage rate. This is the Starship Hardeeville. Welcome aboard.”
Port alive and well
Sauls emphasized economic development and capital investment, citing the county’s partnership with Southern Carolina Economic Alliance.
During the last 54 months, Sauls said Jasper County totaled $12 million in capital investments that created 86 new jobs.
Highlights included the construction of a 50,000-square-foot spec building in Point South (Sauls said County Council hopes to announce a tenant in the next few months) and the 40,000-square-foot spec building at Cypress Ridge (an announcement about a tenant is expected this spring).
Sauls said 21 businesses are considering Jasper, with two that would involve “significantly large projects.”
“Together with the Southern Carolina Economic Alliance the city of Hardeeville and the town of Ridgeland, Jasper County has a bright future,” Sauls said.
Sauls stressed that the Jasper Ocean Terminal is “alive and well.”
Citing the November 2015 joint-venture agreement between South Carolina and Georgia, Sauls said there’s reason to believe in the port, which is expected to be completed by 2025. He expects the first phase of the project to create a million jobs.
He also said a State of the Port address, first held last spring in Jasper, will be an annual event. This year’s date has yet to be determined.
County Council plans to be ready for the port, Sauls said, which includes knowing what’s needed for having a capable workforce.
“One of our initiatives going forward for workforce development is to meet with the business leaders, company leaders, who are involved in the commerce of the port, to find out what specific skill sets the workforce requires,” Sauls said.
Sauls, who lauded all officials who worked “in harmony” during Hurricane Matthew, said the county is proud of the new Hardeeville library. County Council donated the property where it is being built and made an initial $150,000 contribution. It also agreed to pay $65,000 annually to go toward operations; will contribute $5,000 each year into a building capital improvements fund; and made a $50,000 donation to buy books and technology to “ensure our children have a high-tech, top-notch library system,” Sauls said.
Sauls noted the penny transportation sales tax that was approved in November's election will help bring $27 million in road projects. The collection of the tax begins May 1.
Leaders believe Jasper County, including the town and city, is on the rise.
“We are excited about where we are going,” Sauls said.