SC commerce agency wants $8.3M to help open Chester County wine plant

·2 min read

The Department of Commerce wants to spend $8.3 million for improvements to allow for the $400 million Gallo Winery project in Chester County to move forward.

The state’s expenditure for that development will include roadway improvements and environmental mitigation, according to documents from the Joint Bond Review Committee, which helps approve spending by state agencies on capital expenses.

State Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the Gallo Winery project would affect wetlands. To mitigate those effects, the state will purchase land that is four miles away and use it to expand the Landsford Canal State Park in Lancaster County, the Department of Commerce said.

California-based E & J Gallo Winery plans to build a $400 million to build a manufacturing facility on 600 acres of land in Chester County, which could bring up to 500 jobs to the state. Gallo also plans to open three tasting rooms around the state.

The JBRC on Wednesday gave its blessing for Commerce to borrow $8.3 million for the project, but it must be approved by the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, which includes the governor, state treasurer, comptroller general, and the chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.

However, lawmakers on the JBRC pushed for paying for the project out of the state’s annual budget, especially as more than $1 billion in one-time money is available for spending in the 2021-22 fiscal year spending plan.

“I’m wondering if it would be better for us to just appropriate the money as opposed to borrowing it,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, who chairs the budget writing Ways and Means Committee said he supports the expenditure, but said it’s better for the project to go through the traditional legislative process.

State lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, have been critical of how Commerce doles out incentives to companies that may be able to cover the costs themselves and whether those companies actually create the number of jobs they promise.

Senators also had members of the Commerce Department come to a chamber office while they debated the Gallo bill to ensure their incentives were appropriate.

“The one thing I hate to see is we’re getting caught up in debates about bringing jobs to South Carolina and we’re having to borrow money, because it’s easier to borrow money than go through the legislative process where we got a $1 billion surplus and we can’t give $8.3 million to commerce,” Smith said.

The House Ways and Means Committee is working again on a spending plan for the next fiscal year now that revenue estimates have increased for next fiscal year. The House may be able to add the project to the state spending plan, Smith said.