March 30, 2008
Mission to Dubai
Orangeburg County Council Chairman Harry Wimberly and Orangeburg County Administrator Bill Clark look at a scale model of the Palm Jumeirah in the sales office of property development company Nakheel. (Special to The T&D)
Orangeburg County officials say acquiring a better understanding of the business and cultural climate of Dubai and the workings of Jafza International (Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone) was the primary mission of a recent week-long trip to the Middle East.
Gregg Robinson, Orangeburg County Development Commission executive director, said meeting with Jafza leadership enabled the county to better comprehend the company's past and shed light on the company's needs for the future.
"We wanted to understand why they want to diversify and why they want to be in the North American market," Robinson said, noting the city of Dubai is experiencing some "massive growth" and has seen the need to expand to a prime region.
And what better place than Orangeburg? he said.
"We wanted to show them our location is better than anywhere in the Southeast," Robinson said.
Robinson was among four Orangeburg County officials who embarked on a 14-hour flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Orangeburg County Council Chairman Harry Wimberly, County Administrator Bill Clark and Development Commission Chairman Jeannine Kees also went on the trip from March 8-16.
The United Arab Emirates-based logistics company, a subsidiary of Dubai World, announced last fall that it intends to invest between $600-700 million in Orangeburg County.
Plans call for a logistics, manufacturing and distribution hub that could employ between 8,000 and 10,000 workers. With construction planned for late 2009, the project is expected to attract some $1.2 billion in private investment.
The OCDC funded the trip for the Orangeburg delegates. The OCDC is the economic development arm of Orangeburg County. The county paid for the flight, accommodations, entertainment and promotional materials, with Jafza covering the business expenses related to meetings and gatherings held in Dubai.
The OCDC has $25,000 allocated in its budget toward international marketing trips which consists of both private and public dollars. Of the $25,000 budgeted, approximately 32 percent, or $8,000, was spent on the trip.
About 10 percent of the trip cost still needs to be tabulated, though Robinson said added items are small and will not significantly increase the expense.
The state delegation also included an S.C. Department of Commerce official with the global business division and a writer for the "Charleston Business Journal."
On Monday, Robinson presented Orangeburg County Council a PowerPoint presentation on the country of Dubai, the country's interest in the United States and, in particular, Orangeburg County, along with pictures of the city and Jafza.
"What they have done with tremendous vision ... is to diversify (Dubai's) overall GDP (gross domestic product)," Robinson told the council and the packed council chambers, noting the country expects to exhaust its natural resources of oil in about 25 years. "It (diversity) is a very significant undertaking from a national perspective to take care of (Dubai's) citizenry."
The Orangeburg delegation took a flight from Charleston to Atlanta and then a 14-hour direct flight to Dubai. The delegation arrived in Dubai on Sunday night, March 9. The country is about eight hours ahead of Orangeburg.
"It was a good flight, but long," said Robinson, adding that, fortunately, the Orangeburg group was able to "get its legs" as the first full day (Monday) was primarily dedicated to touring the city.
During the remainder of the week, the delegation was able to meet with various industrial representatives who expressed casual to more serious interest in locating to South Carolina and, in particular, the Santee area.
"There were serious questions about the business environment and skill sets," Robinson said. "We tried to answer all the fundamental questions that needed to be addressed for companies."
He said as well as providing information about the state and the county for those in Jafza, the trip was a learning experience.
"One thing I learned ... is there are significant similarities between our cultures," Robinson said. "They have a very open, honest, direct business relationship and an eagerness to make a positive impact on the citizens of (their) own country with their ability to make a profit. They are very business oriented ... they are choosing our location because they feel like it is a good place to do business."
And what a location it is, Robinson said.
"It is a tremendous target market for companies all over the world, and this is where they want to be to sell their goods," Robinson said, noting that Orangeburg County is in the center of the heavily populated East Coast. "We can miss on that opportunity and let them logistically handle it someplace else, or we can embrace it, add value, assemble and get it out the door and, therefore, get it out to the end user faster."
Robinson said when it comes to Dubai, there is no hindrance to their vision. Whether it is building an island, or building the tallest building in the world, he says the sky is the limit for that country.
"It is beyond words," Robinson said. "They have the intellectual, financial and leadership wherewithal to accomplish whatever they set out."
OCDC Chairwoman Jeannine Kees could not agree more.
She described the trip as "wonderful" and the "right move" for the county.
"This is an investment," she said. "Usually we work real hard to get in front of one prospect. Here we had 30 in the same room. If you don't invest, you can't get any return on your investment."
Beyond the business aspect of the trip, Kees said she was impressed with the ongoing development in the city as well as the culture.
"People are people," she said. "They are interested in the same things, like the quality of life, educating their children, good housing and jobs."
Kees said the city was "pristine," without any noticeable trash or graffiti, and she was surprised at the "openness" of the culture. About 80 percent of the city's residents are foreigners.
"I thought it would be more conservative," she said, noting that while traditional Muslim dress was evident, the Mall of the Emirates had complete sets of designer clothes, purses and bags. She said everyone fit right in. "I was concerned about the dress," Kees said.
And then there was the desert.
"I expected to see some cactus. and there were no cacti," she said, laughing. "It was just desert. There were a few little scrubby things."
Wimberly said the trip was "well worthwhile" and "unimaginable" for what he says could most likely be one of the biggest projects to ever hit South Carolina.
"I had expressed some doubts whether we needed to go, but after meeting with those folks over there and seeing the excitement of customers anticipating being able to relocate ... in the United States and South Carolina, I realized we had a real winner," he said.
Wimberly said two brothers approached him during the meeting, expressing interest in the U.S. market.
"When Jafza announced they had purchased property in South Carolina and Orangeburg County, it opened up a whole new avenue for them," he said.
Representatives of at least six international companies said their firms are determined to locate facilities at the logistics park with company surveys estimating the possible expansion of a total of 33 companies into the county.
The owner of Sider Gulf FZCO, a supplier of steel and stainless steel products, and M.R.S. Packaging Limited, a company that works with seven U.S.-based candy and snack food manufacturers, said he wants to establish a presence in Orangeburg to provide his clients with the kind of logistics solutions they need to help grow their companies, Wimberly said.
He said construction is ongoing everywhere in Dubai.
"Basically, a whole city was building up right around itself," Wimberly said, noting that it will be interesting to see what happens to already bumper-to-bumper traffic when the buildings currently under construction are occupied. "Traffic was pretty tough. I would say that Charleston does not have traffic like that."
The Jebel Ali Foreign Trade Zone project has been cited as a model of what Jafza would like to see occur in Orangeburg. The local center would be Jafza's first entry into the United States.
But Robinson said what has happened in Jebel Ali and what will occur in Orangeburg are in many ways different.
For one thing, the "massive size" of the 35,000-acre Jafza project overseas will not compare with Orangeburg, he said.
Robinson said about 1,324 acres have been set aside in Orangeburg, approximately half of which will be dedicated to green space and a mixed use of warehousing and light manufacturing.
"There will be significant design that goes into this," Robinson said, adding that Jafza is committed to environmental sensitivity.
County Administrator Bill Clark said what impressed him about the trip and the city of Dubai was how a "small fishing village" a few decades ago has been literally transformed overnight into a bustling metropolis.
"It is a pretty extraordinary thing," he said. "You have an indoor snow-skiing facility built in the middle of the desert; you have an island development created in the Arabian Sea where previously none existed."
Clark said the ingenuity and vision of the Dubai people is something the county can learn from, albeit on a smaller scale.
"Our vision for the future should not be limited by what we see but instead should be directed by what can be," he said.
As part of the trip, the state delegation provided Jafza officials with various gifts -- "pretty much anything with a Palmetto tree on it," Robinson said.
Palmetto tree pins, Palmetto tree neckties and "The South Carolina Encyclopedia" written by Dr. Walter Edgar, University of South Carolina history professor.
Robinson also pointed out that the state flag with the familiar crescent moon was a welcome symbol in the predominately Muslim country.
When asked if another excursion is planned, Robinson said the next step will be for the county to play host to the leadership of Jafza and to provide the same hospitality the company provided them.
"It was truly the epitome of Southern hospitality," he said.
In the meantime, the Jafza project is moving forward here.
Applied Technology and Management Inc., a Florida-based engineering, design and consulting firm, has been chosen to provide program management and development support services for the first phase of the 1,300-acre center. The company has a staff of 15 working in Dubai on a number of projects.
And Jafza South Carolina LLC, a subsidiary of Jafza International, announced Columbia-based BP Barber as the company contracted to do due diligence and environmental services for the first phase of the project.
The civil engineering firm will be responsible for providing geotechnical, environmental, roadway evaluations, wetland and survey services as well as assisting Jafza with completing related studies and site-surveying services.