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Economy: Tech firm plans a Silicon Allée at Pawleys site

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The technology firm Mercom hopes to attract similar companies to the Pawleys Island area by creating Georgetown County’s first technology park. The plan is up for review today by the Georgetown County Planning Commission.

“We have an issue with talent. We need more businesses like ourselves,” said Stella Mercado, president and CEO of Mercom.

If approved by the commission and County Council, the technology park should have a ready market, said Brian Tucker, the county’s director of economic development. “I think it could have a significant impact,” he said. “There are going to be a number of partners around the community that are excited to participate.”

Mercom, which provides technology services to the federal government, has run out of space in its office at the corner of Petigru and Commerce drives. It is seeking county approval to amend the current zoning on a 28.2-acre “planned development” across the street from its office to allow a mix of office, warehouse and lodging space. The property was once the site of the Waccamaw Farms nursery. The property was zoned for an office park in 2008, but never developed. A portion was sold to Mission Pawleys, a church group that has since moved its services to Litchfield Plantation.

Since opening its office in Pawleys Island, Mercom has won multi-billion-dollar federal contracts. “With the addition of these new contracts, Mercom is positioned for continued, sustainable growth,” Mercado said.

The Mercom proposal calls for a 67,000-square-foot building that will include 15,000 square feet of warehouse space. The company’s current office has less than 10,000 square feet and it has rented additional space down the street. Mercado said the alternative to building their own facility is to move out of the area. But she and her brother Larry Mercado, the vice president, like the quality of life here and think it is attractive to tech workers.

At an IT conference, Stella Mercado said she realized there were many small businesses with similar needs. In addition to the main building, the tech park plan calls for five other office buildings that vary in size from 4,000 to 15,000 square feet. There are seven buildings of 6,200 square feet that mix offices and lodging.

Mercom also has an office in the Washington, D.C., area and mixed-use buildings would give visiting employees a place to stay. They could also provide housing for local employees, she said.

The layout also includes a restaurant, plazas, a walking path and a bike path, areas that Mercado said will encourage the exchange of ideas that comes when people meet through casual interaction. The building designs will follow the county guidelines for commercial projects along Highway 17 on Waccamaw Neck.

Mercom is asking for exceptions to the rules that require a 6/12 roof pitch and limit window glass to 9 square feet. It also wants an exception to the 60,000-square-foot limit on building size.

The total plan includes 167,700 square feet of space. A comparison with the current zoning isn’t possible be cause no building size is listed for seven out parcels, said Holly Richardson, the county’s senior planner. But the planning staff, which recommends approval of the project, calculates that the new plan will reduce traffic volume from 2,835 trips a day in the current zoning to 2,326 trips.

“The biggest difference is the uses,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. The current uses are for a “resort services” district. The proposed uses focus of office, research, electronics and related amenities.

The county has two industrial parks, but Tucker said the tech businesses “don’t need to be in an industrial setting.” On the other hand, industrial equipment is now run by computer, so attracting more tech workers to the county will benefit existing industry. Those workers now have to be recruited from outside the county. “It would be a lot better if we could create some kind of critical mass where we are training our own students” through schools and colleges, he said.

The Planning Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. in Georgetown County Council chambers.

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