One of the most notable — and noticeable — industrial sites along the Charleston-area skyline is about to get a makeover. It comes courtesy of a Michigan company that wants to use the building for its original purpose, manufacturing parts for U.S. defense projects.
W International, a welding and fabrication business, plans to spend at least $35.2 million at the former Jacobs Engineering site along the Cooper River at the Charleston International Manufacturing Center in the Bushy Park area near Goose Creek.
Among the property’s features is a 225-foot-tall, cube-shaped building that’s one of the tallest industrial structures in South Carolina and — on a clear day — can be seen from the Ravenel Bridge.
The 1970s-era building — which narrowly avoided the wrecking ball a decade ago — was last used full-time by Jacobs, which moved out in 2015. There are some roof leaks, the massive cranes need work, the lighting isn’t in top shape and the exterior could use a good power washing, but the building appears to have aged fairly well.
“It needs some TLC,” Ed Walker, CEO of W International, said of the building. “We’re going to have a big renovation project to get it back up to its old glory.” Ed Walker is CEO of W International
The cavernous structure — with the square footage of nearly four football fields — is one of three manufacturing buildings on the property, owned by Cooper River Partners, a part of the Pacolet-Milliken private financial group.
Ralph Walker, an executive vice president at Pacolet-Milliken, said “the massive building is truly a landmark.”
“W International will be re-purposing the building for activity similar to its original intent,” he said. “We are committed to supporting and growing the park and W’s decision to locate here should help us attract more businesses.”
W International will set up fabrication, welding and processing facilities to manufacture large tanks, deck structures and other equipment for the Navy’s $90 billion Columbia class submarine project and the new Gerald Ford class of aircraft carriers, which have a price tag of between $10 billion and $13 billion apiece.
Walker said his company has agreements with General Dynamics subsidiary Electric Boat and with Newport News Shipbuilding for a minimum of 1.5 million hours of work on the warships.
“We chased this Navy business because it’s long term,” he said. “We expect at least 30 years of heavy production with these projects.”
The ramp-up will be quick— Walker plans to start hiring welders and other staff early next year, with full production scheduled by summer.
But first, Walker needs to renovate the site. He has a $6 million budget for that work, with the S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development kicking in $1.25 million from a grant that will be passed through Berkeley County.
Ed Walker, CEO of W International, and
Michelle Fowler, chief operating officer, toured the company’s 225-foot-tall manufacturing building along the Cooper River last week. David Wren/Staff
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