A 2-year-old company that manufactures natural-gas conversion systems for heavy-duty diesel trucks has moved to Beaufort, lured by incentives that include the county's purchase of a $850,000 machine.
EcoDual, which is incorporated in Delaware and has offices at 1001 Bay St., plans to build a 100,000-square-foot facility in Commerce Park within two years. It also pledged to invest $13.7 million and create 307 jobs within five years. The company currently has 20 employees.
For the next 18 months or so, home will be a maintenance garage on Pin Drop Road, behind the Vaden Chevrolet dealership. About 100 people -- including business leaders and politicians -- gathered there Thursday for the company's announcement.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling called Thursday a "sunny, sunny, sunny day" in the city; state Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, called it a "day to celebrate." University of South Carolina Beaufort Chancellor Jane Upshaw described the arrival of a manufacturer a history-making day.
Beaufort County and the state of South Carolina offered EcoDual an incentive package code-named "Project Robot." The county will buy an $850,000 engine-testing device called a dynamometer. It will own the device, but EcoDual -- and, potentially, other businesses -- can use it.
The state has offered EcoDual job-development credits. Their ultimate value depends on whether the company creates the jobs and makes the investments agreed upon, according to a S.C. Department of Commerce spokeswoman.
Terms of the deal were approved several weeks ago but not made public until Thursday. Beaufort County and Lowcountry Economic Alliance officials have said they could not share details because they were in competition and didn't want to lose EcoDual to another locale.
However, EcoDual apparently began getting acclimated to the Lowcountry weeks ago -- a March 6 article in the upstate newspaper GSA Business about the company's partnership with Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research referred to EcoDual as a Beaufort-based company.
Still more sweeteners could be offered to the company.
Although the city of Beaufort has not approved incentives for EcoDual, city manager Scott Dadson says discussions about tax breaks are likely as the company gets closer to buying land in the city-owned commerce park.
EcoDual was formed about 30 months ago and has raised start-up cash from a venture capital firm and other investors, according to founding partner and executive vice president Doug Thomson, who would not discuss finance details.
"None of our funding comes from (government) grants. It comes from investors and the sale of our product," he said.
That product is conversion kits designed and built by EcoDual that allow large, diesel-powered engines to run on both diesel and cleaner-burning natural gas. They allow fleet operators to save money by replacing as much as 60 percent of a truck's diesel fuel with natural gas, which is about half as expensive at current prices.
If natural gas fuel is unavailable, the engines can run on pure diesel.
EcoDual's conversion systems cost between $30,000 and $35,000 apiece, but Thomson says the payback time is relatively quick, considering many long-haul trucks drive 120,000 miles a year.
Thomson said there are fleet customers already using EcoDual's natural-gas conversion kits. Those were manufactured partially in California and partially in Beaufort, he said in an email Thursday afternoon. The work was done in the company's Bay Street offices, he said. "South Carolina offers EcoDual a fantastic business environment and an excellent talent pool to ensure we can meet our customers' expectations," Anant Vashi, chief financial officer for EcoDual, said in a statement. "With the growth we are experiencing in our business, we are excited to plant deeper roots in the state."
Thomson said the company first considered locating in Ohio, Indiana or Michigan to be close to universities and automotive manufacturers. However, after partnering with Clemson, the company narrowed its search to the Greenville area and Beaufort County.
The county's offer to buy the $850,000 dynamometer -- which allows the company to test its products on different engines -- sealed the deal, he said.
County officials, meanwhile, have high hopes for the dynamometer. When the machine arrives in six to nine months it will be the first of its kind in South Carolina, and County Council members believe it will attract similar businesses and more jobs to the area.
It's not clear when hiring will begin and for what positions. Thomson said the company will need a wide range of employees. Prospective candidates can contact the company by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.
- New Beaufort Commerce Park tenant to be announced next week, officials say, June 13
- Beaufort County defends handling of $850K business incentive, June 12, 2013
- Beaufort County offering business incentives worth $850K to entice 'Project Robot', May 7, 2013
- Article in GSA Business about EcoDual
- EcoDual's company website