Walmart breaks ground on $220M facility near Charleston that will create 1,000 jobs
Declaring it the most significant day in the history of the Port of Charleston and South Carolina’s supply chain complex, officials from the state, Dorchester County and the Walmart corporation broke ground Tuesday on a 3 million-square-foot import distribution facility that will create 1,000 full-time jobs.
The massive distribution facility, which will span the length of 50 football fields once it is completed in April 2022, is being built in Ridgeville, a town in Dorchester County, some 30 miles outside of Charleston.
However, the groundbreaking ceremony for the $220 million project was held Tuesday morning at the Wando Port Terminal in Mount Pleasant. It was labeled a “virtual groundbreaking,” and remarks made at the event were live-streamed on social media. Even footage of the shovels going into the Ridgeville site had been pre-recorded a day before and played for attendees at the event.
With white folding chairs spaced 6 feet apart and a limited guest list, the president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority, Jim Newsome, welcomed Gov. Henry McMaster, state lawmakers, county officials and Greg Smith, Walmart’s executive vice president of supply chain, to the port terminal.
“I’m sure that in normal times the enthusiasm for this project would have meant a gathering which would fill a convention center,” Newsome said at the podium, as guests of honor sat behind him wearing face masks.
Despite the smaller event, McMaster beamed as he stood at the podium.
“This is what success looks like,” the governor said.
McMaster said South Carolina is a state that does not stand on ceremony. Instead, he said, the state has gained a reputation for being a place where people communicate, collaborate and cooperate.
“If you need to talk to somebody, you pick up the phone and call them. You don’t need a meeting, and that gives us an advantage,” McMaster said.
The distribution center, which was first announced in July, has been a project four years in the making.
Construction of the Ridgeville Industrial Campus began in 2016 with the goal of being a major job creator for the Lowcountry. Two years later, in 2018, the South Carolina Ports Authority purchased that 1,000-acre industrial park to create a site for port-dependent businesses. The Walmart import distribution center will be the first tenant.
The distribution center, when operating at full capacity, is also expected to increase volumes at the Port of Charleston by 5% since it will use the port to supply six Walmart regional distribution centers and support approximately 850 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores across South Carolina and beyond.
Smith said Walmart envisions the facility being a part of “the economic success of this region” and will ultimately help the retail giant serve its customers better.
“Our business has changed pretty dramatically at Walmart,” said Smith, who arrived at the groundbreaking wearing a royal blue mask emblazoned with the Walmart logo on the lower right of the face mask.
“When you think about what’s happened with COVID-19, in the last eight months, we have seen an advancement of e-commerce and digital operations,” he said. “In the past, you used to think about supply chains as being in the back and basically not being seen. What we’re learning through the pandemic is, quite frankly, that supply chains are a lifeline. They have to be healthy. They have to be robust.”
Walmart, which is America’s largest private employer and the world’s largest retailer, recently reported its e-commerce sales grew 79% year over year during its third quarter. Smith said the company is finding more and more that it must modify its supply chains to meet the needs of its customers.
Smith called Ridgeville a “great example” of investments Walmart has made to be able to continue not only servicing its stores but to grow and expand its e-commerce business.
Walmart will receive property tax breaks from Dorchester County Council. The South Carolina Coordinating Council for Economic Development will also provide a $5 million grant to Dorchester County to help pay for public infrastructure related to the project.
After a video played of the groundbreaking held one day earlier at the Ridgeville site, officials picked up their own shovels and thrust them into plots of soil. After turning over the dirt, the audience cheered.
Though McMaster had called South Carolina “the handshake state” for its ability to attract economic projects such as this, he instead walked over to Smith and gave him a fist-bump, another sign of how the pandemic has changed everything.