FLORENCE, S.C. — People attending the Northeastern Strategic Alliance’s fall conference Thursday afternoon got a firsthand look at how the Palmetto State was able to lure a manufacturing company from Long Island to Marion County.
MobileFleet Inc., a builder of police, fire and emergency response vehicles and components, announced plans in June to establish operations in Marion County that will create 64 jobs.
Robert Squicciarini, president and CEO of MobileFleet, told those attending about the difficulties of doing business in the Empire State in a panel at the conference that also featured Larry Labbe of Wyman Gordon in Dillon County and Billy Hogge of Screwmatics in Chesterfield County.
“The flight out of New York is very real right now,” he said. “A lot of people don’t talk about it, but it is very, very real.”
One of the biggest challenges Squicciarini said the company faces in New York is the lack of space to expand its operations at a 35,000-square-foot facility in Hauppauge.
Hauppage is in central Long Island and was once home to the second-largest industrial park in the nation.
“We’re out of room. We can’t grow anymore there,” Squicciarini said. “It’s holding us up. We want a little bit more space. Actively, right now, average square-foot price industrial space class is about $200 per square foot. ... It’s cost-prohibitive.”
Another challenge is the shorter length of tax incentives in New York, Squicciarini said.
He also mentioned the difficulty of making changes to facilities. He said it took eight months to get approval for a garage door.
Squicciarini also mentioned the difficulty of transporting products from New York City — the location of the major airports and ports serving Long Island — to the facility.
As far labor, Squicciarini said, no one in New York is being trained for manufacturing jobs.
“Everybody goes to college and then they’re unemployed for 10 years,” he joked.
He also mentioned the costs of living in the Empire State, which are substantially higher than in South Carolina.
Squicciarini contrasted that with Marion County.
The company will have operations in the 113,000-square-foot Spartan Building, at 2914 Spartan Place in Marion County, providing plenty of room for growth.
“The incentives were attractive, of course,” he added.
Squicciarini said there was also a much easier process to make improvements. He said the company had already received several visits from fire inspectors who had been very helpful about getting stuff done. Later Squicciarini added that the county, state and economic development workers had also been helpful.
He also cited the location of the facility near Inland Port Dillon and the Port of Charleston and Interstates 95 and 20.
As far as labor, he said, he had heard from some of the surrounding industry that they were nervous about the wages MobileFleet plans to pay.
“Our goal is to bring wages up in the area,” Squicciarini said. “We want to give people good jobs and good high-paying jobs.”
He also mentioned the ease of recruiting employees and working with local schools to train potential employees.
Squicciarini also mentioned the lower cost of living.
He said some employees who the company hadn’t planned on moving had begun to ask about relocating to South Carolina.
Squicciarini closed by saying Marion had been a great place so far, and he hoped it all works out well. He said he hoped the facility in Marion County could grow from a shop to a full-blown manufacturing facility.
The conference was held at the The Gallery at University Place at 142 North Dargan St.
It also featured an update on NESA by Yancey McGill, a presentation by William C. Keller of Wells Fargo about the economics of an election year, a panel on expanding workforce development and an interview of consultant Amy Gerber.
NESA is a regional, nonprofit economic development organization that serves nine counties — Florence, Darlington, Marion, Williamsburg, Dillon, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Georgetown, and Horry — in northeastern South Carolina.