Lights flashed on the front of a large, yellow railroad vehicle as U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-SC, ascended the metal stairway to the machine's controls Monday morning.
The project is a prototype of sorts built for Amtrak in a northern Beaufort County manufacturing facility that reopened last year as the North American headquarters for Geismar-Modern Track Machinery.
Sanford toured the building with Geismar employees, railroad industry lobbyists and local government officials Monday. The company opened its Beaufort facility on Parker Drive last fall and employs 36 people with plans to add more jobs with the arrival of more projects next year.
"We're anticipating growth," Geismar-Modern Track Machinery president Al Reynolds said.
Reynolds and local economic development supporters also hope the company can serve as a blueprint to attract more business.
"They've reported they're happy here; the workforce has been great; they've found the ability to get product in and out," said Stephen Murray, a member of Beaufort City Council and Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation commission. "I think those are positive signs, and we can continue bringing folks in like them."
In addition to the Amtrak project, the 47,000 square-foot facility manufacturers 360-degree cranes and smaller hydraulic equipment. Geismar's Beaufort location will eventually assemble vehicles capable of traveling on the highway and rail line and a series of battery-powered vehicles to perform tunnel maintenance.
The Amtrak machine includes a lift for conducting maintenance or inspections along railways and will be able to operate by battery power and diesel to allow crews to avoid fumes when working in enclosed locations like tunnels and train depots.
Reynolds said he thinks his company could serve as a "magnet" to draw other manufacturers to the area.
Beaufort leaders have worked the past several years to draw tenants for the 160 acres of Beaufort Commerce Park the city owns not far from Geismar's gates.
The city has recently reached a deal with a local company planning to use the park. The owners of Oliver's Bushhogging plan to lease 16 acres of the property for an operation to dispose of tree and yard waste via a smokeless incinerator, with the resulting potash product sold as fertilizer.
The city's Commerce Park property otherwise remains vacant. High-speed, fiber-optic cable is expected in the park within the next several months via investment from Hargray and a grant from the S.C. Department of Commerce, Murray said.
Officials also plan to repave roads through the property and work with SCE&G to add street lights.
"I would like things to have happened faster, but it's a long game," Murray said.
Geismar provided some economic activity for the area after Parker Hannifin, which operated a Beaufort manufacturing facility on Parker Drive, closed the plant in 2015. Harris Pillow also recently expanded into a newly renovated facility on Parker Drive.
Beaufort County approved a $750,000 incentive for Geismar to locate here, tied to the company adding at least 45 well-paying jobs and investing $2.5 million in the Parker Drive building formerly occupied by Minster Machine.
The company expects to hit the jobs mark by next March, Reynolds said.
Geismar's presence could be the impetus for a related company to relocate, he said. He offered the hypothetical example of a frame manufacturer that might want to follow Geismar — the company currently gets frames from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"If nothing else, it gives people a success story," Reynolds said. "Here's a building that was vacant for six years, they put some money into it, they were able to hire local, qualified personnel. And the supply chains followed."