A leap forward for jobs

Marion County lands record $54 million plant, up to 215 jobs

ashain@thestate.comMarch 27, 2013 

The county with the state’s worst unemployment rate will get a boost from a Florida food maker opening a plant in downtown Marion.

Essex Holdings will spend $54.4 million on a rice packaging and distribution plant that could employ up to 215 people, Gov. Nikki Haley and state commerce department officials announced Wednesday.

The plant is the largest initial-economic development announcement in Marion County history, said Rodney Berry, executive director of the Marion County economic development commission. Marion County had a state-high 19.2 percent jobless rate in January, more than double the state average of 8.7 percent, according to state data.

The facility will open later this year on Liberty Street in Marion at the site of the 500,000-square-foot former Blumenthal Mill textile plant, which closed in 2009. Essex has agreed with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to clean chemical pollution remaining from the mill, according to state documents.

“It was an eyesore at the entrance to Marion,” Berry said of the plant. “It’s unfortunate that we have the tagline as the county with the highest unemployment in the state. We’re trying to rid ourselves of that tagline.”

Marion County also has a company interested in a two-month-old 50,000-square-foot spec building in an industrial park off U.S. 501, Berry said.

Essex received a $1 million rural infrastructure grant from the state, the commerce department said. The company also is getting a 20-year tax break from Marion County, Berry said.

Haley hailed the plant as a win for rural areas. Her foundation, called The Original Six, held in Marion County a health-and-job fair last year in Mullins, about 10 miles from Marion.

Essex Holdings and its chief executive Navin Xavier have not donated to Haley’s campaign, according to S.C. Ethics Commission records.

The company, however, contributed $1,000 last week to the re-election campaign for Berry, who also is the mayor of Marion. Berry, who spent nine months working with the company on the deal, said he did not seek the donation from Essex.

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