Snapshots: 60 Seconds With James Chavez, South Carolina Power Team

James Chavez, President and Chief Executive Officer, South Carolina Power Team, discusses recent economic development successes, the Site Readiness Fund, workforce development and foreign investment.

BF: In the last five years, the SC Power Team cooperative system has attracted more than $5.9 billion in new capital investment and more than 27,000 jobs. What were the key factors that generated this success?

SC Power Team
James Chavez, President and Chief Executive Officer, South Carolina Power Team

JC: South Carolina came out of the recession as a major player in economic development. However, at the time, the success experienced by the state largely was happening in the territory of the other utility providers. In addition, during that same period industrial growth had started moving away from the city centers and into non-urban and (what was) rural areas of our major MSA’s. In 2014, the SC Power Team Board adopted an aggressive strategic blueprint for growth that provided resources in the areas of: competitive utility rates, flexible incentives and site development. Our five-year goals were to attract $2.9 billion in capital investment and 13,000 new jobs…both of which had never been done before. The attraction of $5.9 billion and creation of 27,000 jobs is unprecedented for South Carolina’s electric cooperatives.

BF: Did SC Power Team incentives play a role in attracting these recent projects?

JC: Incentives and our ability to compete on rate have both played a key role in some of South Carolina Cooperatives marquis wins such as Volvo, Samsung, Ruiz Foods and so many others. In all cases, all the incentives in the world do not matter if the prospective company cannot find a site that fits their needs and provide assurance that they will be up and running on time, and that they trust that they will have a robust talent pipeline. Through the Strategic Blueprint’s adoption, our leadership provided us with incentives that allow us to be a significant utility partner to our State and the communities we serve.

BF: The $36-million Site Readiness Fund is creating “market-ready” sites within SC Power Team’s service territory. How does the fund work? How many market-ready sites have been created thus far?

JC: The Site Readiness Fund was created because growth was coming to the non-urban and rural parts of South Carolina, but our territory didn’t have developers beating down our doors to take down property and develop speculative buildings. In addition, projects are moving so fast today that if your sites are not under control, infrastructure already extended, cleared and graded then there is significant potential that your site will be eliminated.

Our cooperatives system has a significant number of sites that were certified as “site ready”, but they were far from ready to start construction. The best chance we had to harness our fair share of the State’s success was to put ourselves in a position to win. This fund has helped us do just that, create our system’s fair share of opportunities for those we serve.

To date, the $36 million has been committed to 27 projects has leveraged an additional $125+ million from communities, cooperatives and other partners. Our leadership is focused on developing master planned parks and sites.

BF: Is SC Power Team participating in programs aiming to increase the number of available workers with STEM skills in your region?

JC: We will be launching several initiatives focused on attracting more young people into STEM careers and careers in the trades. Too many kids are going to four-year schools when they could be working in manufacturing for a great wage and no student debt. We want to use the grass roots reach of our cooperatives to let them know about the opportunities that exist.

BF: There was $180 million in incoming FDI in the SC Power Team territory in 2018. What makes SC an attractive destination for FDI?

JC: South Carolina has a long history of attracting foreign direct investment from every region of the world. Our people who work in these facilities are our number one reason for our success in FDI. These companies stay and grow with us. Also key to our collective success is the Port of Charleston and its two inland ports, and our favorable business climate. When a company negotiates, they negotiate directly with a cooperative CEO. If they ever have an issue, they have a direct line to the cooperative CEO. In addition, the SC Power Team travels to every region of the world to meet and develop relationships with companies considering growth in North America and [are looking to] establish operations in the Southeast.