7 prospects eye former customer service center

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By Jenny Hartley

The buildings at Springs Global's Grace Complex may provide jobs once again to county residents.

Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. President Keith Tunnell said seven projects are looking at the company's former customer service center, which once housed about 600 customer service representatives for the textile giant.

Those prospects have come from leads from both the state Department of Commerce and the Charlotte Regional Partnership, a 16-county, nonprofit economic development organization based in Charlotte.

These prospects could bring 150 to 650 jobs, with salaries of $10 to $14 an hour, Tunnell said. Lancaster County has a workforce already trained in customer service that could fill those jobs.

"As of right now, the customer service center is the only available building," Tunnell said. "They (Springs) still haven't decided what they're going to do with those (other) buildings."

The front of the Grace Complex will be used for distribution, which is remaining in the United States, said Roland Myers, Springs Global's senior vice president of human resources.

Tunnell said he would like to get into the other manufacturing facilities at the Grace Complex, to look at the ceiling heights and other conditions and features, and market these buildings on the Internet, if it's determined that they could still be viable for industrial use.

Ceiling heights are important to industries, and most today want higher ceilings than those built in 1940s- and 1950s-era textile mills.

The complex has water and sewer and electrical generation plants as well.

"There's a bunch of questions and due diligence to do out there," Tunnell said. "We're ready and willing to work with Springs Global to evaluate those buildings and work with them to find potential companies for those facilities."

Work on the Grace Complex began in 1948. The plant now totals 2.1 million square feet in three buildings. The customer service center is 124,000 square feet.

Fort Lawn's Elliott Plant was built in 1964, followed by the Frances Plant in 1966. Both buildings are about 225,000 square feet. The 250,000-square-foot Leroy Plant was built in 1967. The H.W. Close plant, on U.S. 21 in Fort Lawn, is the newest plant in the area. The 235,000 square-foot building opened about 1990.

The Fort Lawn plants are listed with a broker, Myers said. The company is undecided on what will become of the non-distribution facilities at Grace.

"We don't know yet," Myers said Monday. "It's too early to tell."

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said the buildings at the Grace Complex will stay on the county tax rolls. It's the equipment in those buildings, most of which has been moved to Brazil, that the county will no longer tax.

He said it will hurt the county's tax base, but not significantly.

"I think it's going to be an ouch. I don't think it's going to be tremendous," Willis said.

As for the use of the buildings, Willis said he'd love for an industry to move into the Grace complex that could provide a lot of people with work in a job-starved county.

From what he knows about the complex, it's strong and sturdy, which could actually make it more difficult to convert to use for another company.

"It would have to be something that could adapt itself to that building," Willis said. "If it was a little closer (to the city), we could make a courthouse out of it."

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