By Abbigail Remkus | Photos by Hailea Boykin
Projects nearing completion and coming to life in Columbia County have run the gamut from a state-of-the-art performing arts center, to parks, retail and new-home construction. Now, an industrial wave is moving west up Interstate 20, along a corridor along the Appling-Harlem Highway.
A short seven miles from the booming Grovetown/Horizon South Parkway, one side of I-20 is home to the massive Greenpoint project – a 20-year, long-term development plan consisting of new-home construction surrounding the new Harlem Middle School and the iconic Pumpkin Center convenience store. On the other side of I-20 is the expansive White Oak Business Park, home to a new Club Car facility and, most recently, a new Amazon fulfillment center.
Long-awaited renovations and updates to the exit ramps and overpass connecting both sides are also underway.
Officials say growth in this area was not something that was on their radar just four short years ago, but today the development at the Appling-Harlem Highway corridor has created a new “synergy” for the county.
In 2015, the Appling-Harlem Employment Activity Center was designated as an activity corridor by the county’s long-term growth management plan, with the goal of creating jobs and employment opportunities, according to Robbie Bennett, executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County.
“I think ‘long term’ came a lot faster than we realized,” he said.
Bennett said industrial sites like White Oak historically take three to five years; just to prepare to market. In just three years; Columbia County has accomplished this and more.
“We have two marquee tenants, one operational for a year, the other, well under construction, will be operational next year, and more activity really without having to market a whole lot right now,” Bennett said. “For it to happen that fast is something Columbia County and Columbia County residents should be extremely proud about. It is not possible without the staff in the county, both in the administration level, but really the staff reviewing the plans, getting their hands dirty and getting out there. They have made the park a success. It’s been phenomenal.”
The Development Authority of Columbia County acquired the 271 acres for Phase I of White Oak Business Park in late 2017, and by 2018, Club Car had begun construction of its new 550,000-square-foot facility. The site became operational in 2019, and by April 2020, the county confirmed plans that Amazon would build a new fulfillment center on an additional 77 acres.
With 70% of Phase I occupied, Phase II of White Oak is in the planning stages to add 320-340 acres, with different tracts of land to meet different needs of businesses interested in relocating to the area.
The Ripple Effect
“By simply having this new business park, it’s created such a new energy for the county. New projects, new opportunities, new jobs, that you see others wanting to be out there,” Bennett said.
At nearby Nature’s Way, both existing businesses and new businesses are seeing opportunities for growth adjacent to White Oak.
For 27 years, David and Angie Byrd have called Nature’s Way in Appling home for the headquarters of their company, Southern Beverage Packers Inc. The parent company of the locally sourced Springtime bottled water brand has a small staff of 25, though Southern Beverage Packers Inc. is operational in 20 states, as far north as
Illinois and Pennsylvania and as far west as Oklahoma.
The Byrds say they welcome the growth in Appling, and their own business ventures are expanding in the area.
“We are adding equipment to produce a distilled water … that’s an item that continues to grow. We will be producing that here in Appling,” David Byrd said. “We have been having to co-pack by firms in South Carolina and south Georgia, but we are going to bring all of that in house. We are adding the production equipment right now.”
David Byrd said the improvements to the exit ramps and easy access to I-20 have been a positive for his company. In addition, he said, the availability of a “young, energetic workforce” in the area is also a draw for new businesses.
Booming business in the Southeast and easy access to I-20 were the draw for Stan Koch & Sons Trucking to bring its third physical full-service facility in the U.S. to the growing Appling corridor on Nature’s Way.
“We have been doing business in Augusta for the past 10 years, and we’ve recently acquired some dedicated business there that will go forward for the next five years,” said David Burkhart, director of operations. “So, we were looking for a terminal for our drivers and our trucks and our trailers and everything that passes through there.”
The new trucking facility, which is still in the planning phases, will operate out of an existing automotive building that has been vacated on Nature’s Way.
Burkhart said the facility will have a full-service tractor and trailer shop, driver’s lounge and training center, and space for parking 400 trailers. He said the center is expected to open up 30-50 jobs, everything from mechanics and drivers to office staff.
“It’s a nice location for our drivers that will be passing through and our drivers that will be domicile there,” he said.
A Source of Pride
While growth is the goal, Bennett said county leaders are working to ensure “development meets the quality of Columbia County,” and that the surrounding natural elements are taken into consideration.
For The Byrds, as longtime land and business owners in the area, believe a “coexistence of business” is possible as the county develops the formerly rural area.
“They respect the fact that it is a green area,” David Byrd said of the county’s plans. “We are landowners up here besides owning a business, so whatever development does take place, we are going to make sure that this is environmentally friendly. … It can be done.”
“Our Springtime brand, one of the most important facets of that brand is the respect for environment,” Angie Byrd said. “Our water comes from the environment and the better and cleaner it is, the better and cleaner our product is, so it’s a win-win for us.”
The wave of industry to the area is something that will benefit county residents as existing businesses grow and new businesses move in and invest in the county.
Bennett said the annual economic impact from White Oak, based on currently announced employment alone, is projected at $200 million. But, with the complete build-out of Phase I, he said that number could grow to an annual economic impact nearing $600 million as businesses move into the park and open up more job opportunities.
Currently, Club Car opened with 100 jobs and counting, and Amazon has said it plans to open “ahead of the 2021 holiday season,” with the opportunity for 800 new jobs in its 450,000-square-foot, multi-level, state-of-the-art fulfillment center at White Oak.
“That $600 million of annual impact at build-out is assuming only 1,500 jobs, so we are well moving in that direction. It could far exceed that,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he hopes residents will be proud of the White Oak park.
“There is so much opportunity in Columbia County, from a growth standpoint, jobs, investment and just a sense of pride. The county focuses a lot on that term, a sense of pride of what we have here in the community, and I think right now, there’s not really any place better in my opinion.”
Appears in the January 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.