The Waste Management site in Hardeeville will serve as a fueling station for a fleet of new trucks, like this one, that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), a cleaner-burning fuel. COURTESY WASTE MANAGEMENT

The first economic domino is in place and, if Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams’ expectations come to fruition, more businesses will follow Waste Management’s decision to build a facility in the town’s RiverPort Business Park.

“Along the Highway 17 corridor there are over 8,000 acres of developable land that will attract light industrial projects, such as warehousing, logistics, light manufacturing, some of which will support the new Jasper Ocean Terminal,” said Williams.

Waste Management announced in December that the company would expand into Hardeeville by building a cutting-edge facility to house a new fleet of trucks that will be using compressed natural gas (CNG). The new site will serve as a refueling station for those trucks using the cleaner fuel.

The facility will create 53 new jobs in the $23 million, 25,000-square-foot building off I-95 at Exit 5.

More jobs coming to a small town is reason for excitement. The population of Hardeeville was 2,952 in 2010. The 2015 mid-census count was 4,789.

Williams should be proud of having Waste Management choose his town. The Texas-based company is ranked No. 1 in the industry by the online magazine Energy Digital and waste news sites including WasteDIVE and Waste360.

Waste Management was ranked at 201 on the 2017 Fortune 500 list; in 2017 Forbes listed the company at 481 on the Global 2000 and at 159 on America’s Top Public Companies.

Along with the creation of jobs and millions of dollars invested in the community, the environment will get a boost as well.

“The addition of over 50 brand new CNG trucks will mean cleaner air for the residents,” said Marla K. Prince, Waste Management’s senior community relations specialist. “For every diesel truck we replace with natural gas, we reduce our use of diesel fuel by an average of 8,000 gallons per year along with a reduction of 14 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.”

The cleaner vehicles will send out almost no particulates, cut greenhouse emissions and be much quieter than diesel trucks, Prince said, adding that eventually 100 percent of the trucks will be converted to CNG.

“Waste Management is an important addition to Hardeeville’s industrial base and we’re excited to have them here,” Williams said. “Location was the key factor.”

The Jasper Ocean Terminal, which will be located near the mouth of the Savannah River on the South Carolina side, is in Hardeeville and has been in the planning stages since 2007.

In a presentation Feb. 2 hosted by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, South Carolina Ports Authority president and chief executive officer Jim Newsome III said the Jasper port will have a 1,500-acre footprint and will be the largest terminal in the United States.

The port’s physical reality is several years away but the anticipated growth that comes with such a huge development will require increased and upgraded infrastructure. One of the benefits of Waste Management’s enhanced presence in the area is the town’s ability to get something it needed.

“Because the new Waste Management facility is five miles away from the nearest fire house, that affects our insurance policy needs,” said Williams, “and it will now trigger the building of the city’s fourth fire station, which is in the development agreement with the land owner of the district, Stratford Land Holdings.”

Williams also said that the Parker Company, owners of Parker’s gas stations and convenience stores, recently purchased 4.1 acres in the commerce park by Exit 5, and will build a warehouse distribution center.

“The economic impact for the region is enormous. New industry provides a higher tax rate than residential, does not require new schools and is not a high crime risk. It will also bring new, higher paying jobs and local residents will not have long commutes,” said Williams. “These new jobs will provide incentives for our children to complete their education and stay locally. And of course, the key economic benefit for our residents will be lower taxes.”

Williams and his colleagues are meeting with the local colleges about the future. “What we are doing to be proactive is meeting regularly with USCB and TCL to alert them of development plans and project the job skills that are necessary,” he said.

He expects the companies moving into Hardeeville will announce what they are seeking in new employees.

Prince offered a list of what Waste Management will need at this new facility. “Potential jobs associated with the new site include CDL rolloff, residential and commercial drivers, as well as maintenance technician roles at rates that are very competitive with the local market,” she said. “Employees will also receive a comprehensive benefits package that includes a 401(K) with generous company match and vesting provisions.”

Construction for Waste Management’s facility is under way and hiring is expected to begin in July, according to the company’s initial press release.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.