Acoustic & Insulation Techniques

AIT Logo | Sherman and Hemstreet

Industrial Buildings have been hot in Augusta for years. The trend will continue. S&H is the leader in the market for leasing and selling industrial and office properties. This article features our very own VP Charles Hock as it discusses multiple transactions including how he filled up the former Quadgraphics building (650,000SF) in one year. There is a lot more industrial business coming to the CSRA. S&H is proud to be a part of bringing jobs to the area.

Last week’s top business story was a Spanish auto-parts manufacturer announcing it will open its North American headquarters at Richmond County’s Forward Augusta Industrial Park.

What you might not know about the announcement by Barcelona-based Acoustic & Insulation Techniques is that its $14 million investment was driven by expediency. The maker of car insulation and vibration absorbers needed a move-in ready building – fast.

Fortunately, Augusta had something to offer: a 75,000-square-foot space recently vacated by Club Car’s logistics operation.

“Having an existing building was the key,” said Cal Wray, president of the Augusta Economic Development Authority, which worked with the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Power to land the 45-employee manufacturing operation. “The time-to-market was what really drove the project.”

Had the company, known as AIT, started looking for space in metro Augusta just eight months earlier, it might have been out of luck. It would have found the south Augusta building still filled with golf car parts while the finishing touches were being put on Club Car’s new 550,000-square-foot distribution center in Columbia County.

You could say it was a “close call.” With so few turnkey industrial buildings available, is it time for the “S” word – spec – to reenter the region’s lexicon?

Perhaps, says Charles Hock.

The Sherman and Hemstreet vice president is a co-owner of the 298,000-square-foot building that AIT will share with drapery maker Samsons Manufacturing. The facility off Tobacco Road was one of the last speculative industrial buildings constructed in Augusta more than 25 years ago.

“Now that so many buildings are full, I think our problem is going to be getting more buildings,” Hock said. “It’s been years now since anybody has been talking about spec.”

The if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy peaked in the 1990s. Then came NAFTA. Then came China. Suddenly, nobody needed turnkey manufacturing space.

Developers virtually ceased building industrial and warehouse properties on spec. In fact, Hock’s Forward Augusta industrial building was one of the last area spec buildings constructed by Atlanta-based spec developer Pattillo Construction. The building’s first tenant, Mattel Inc., produced outdoor play equipment at the facility until it moved the toy operation overseas in 1999.

Today, manufacturing is back on the upswing and the expansion of the Panama Canal has made the Southeast more attractive to logistics companies. Industrial and warehouse space, it appears, is back in demand.

“Industrial land was one of the worst-performing asset classes for the last 10 years,” Hock said. “That’s beginning to change because now there’s a need for it. Warehousing is kind of a hot commodity throughout the country, and particularly in the Southeast.”

Lest you think Hock is blowing smoke, he’s actually putting his money where his mouth is. His partners in 2017 acquired the massive Quad/Graphics commercial printing plant in Evans in 2017 after the Wisconsin-based owner closed the 650,000-square-foot operation two years earlier.

Today, the property is 100 percent occupied, with tenants including local pellet-grill company REC TEC Grills, Illinois-based fastener company Assembled Products and a logistics company that works for an undisclosed manufacturer of, um, green-colored farm equipment.

Hock also is working on a new 150,000-square-foot warehouse for FLSmidth, a Danish company whose Columbia County plant manufactures industrial filter bags and air-scrubbing equipment. The build-to-suit deal probably wouldn’t be needed if the market had a larger inventory of modern industrial and warehouse properties.

“There’s not a lot of build-to-suit,” Hock acknowledges. “Why pay $4, $5, $6 a square foot when you could lease for $3? But all those buildings have mostly been scooped up.”