As you might expect, the South Carolina Research Authority took a very studied approach when it came to finding a new home for their operation. And for all kinds of reasons, they chose Nexton.
“We looked at 80 different sites, actually,” says Randy Cutts, SCRA’s Director of Facilities. “This was a big move for us. We had a 26-acre campus that we were moving from. And we were taking that to a single facility. So we had a lot of different factors to take into consideration. Nexton became the obvious choice.”
In search of the best commute
As part of their extensive research, the facilities team at SCRA drove to each of their candidate locations during peak traffic periods. Some of their favored locations were a little closer to Charleston. But when traffic patterns were taken into consideration, it was only common sense to stay in a place that doesn’t require people to commute toward Charleston. “If you have to travel toward downtown Charleston, your commute can be anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour and 25 minutes depending on what’s happening with traffic on I-26.”
“This is one of the reasons I’m at SCRA,” says Adrian Grimes, Director of Marketing and Communications for the firm. Living in the Summerville area and commuting to her former job in downtown Charleston, she had watched her commute grow from about 40 minutes to anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. “I told my husband, ‘We’re either moving or I’m getting a job closer to home.’”
SCRA’s traffic studies revealed that other locations were equally problematic. Cutts explains, “If we’d gone a different direction, let’s say to Daniel Island, we would have increased our commuting time by up to a half hour or more because you have more bridges and that’s where the bulk of the traffic is.”
And in strategizing around the idea of location, SCRA considered the larger context. A Nexton location makes travelling to SCRA’s main headquarters in Columbia, SC, much easier. And it places SCRA in the heart of the region’s future growth path.
Metro Charleston is expanding fast, with an average of 30 to 40 people moving there every day. The SCRA team understands the strain this kind of expansion puts on a region and how a community’s approach to growth can affect the workday. As Grimes says, “There’s growth and then there’s smart growth.” SCRA discovered that Nexton was the latter.
“Nexton was very forward-thinking,” Cutts says. “The whole idea of live, work, play had just entered the lexicon in South Carolina. Nexton had all those components.”
Nexton has brought together all the ingredients of town — offices and homes, shops and services, parks and restaurants — and tied them together with an extensive trail network that makes the workday more convenient, more efficient and more delicious.
“I will say I have really enjoyed having the amenities really close by,” Grimes says. “I’ve experienced the benefit of having a Starbucks and places to eat right there. And the restaurants are high-quality. I’ve worked in areas where there were places to eat but they weren’t really great.”
Health and hiring
Nexton’s walkable community plan is about more than convenience. Rather than merely letting people get from A to B, Nexton’s trail network has turned out to be a boon to company health and morale. “Within our building design, we incorporated showers so that people could go run during lunch, use those trails, then come back, take a shower and finish off their day,” Grimes explains. “And I can tell you that, at least pre-pandemic, our employees were using the trails and showers on a daily basis.”
And Grimes says that the sum of Nexton’s parts creates a very magnetic whole: “With all the amenities, Nexton is much more attractive. It’s definitely a draw in terms of hiring, attracting people. If people purchase a home in Nexton, that makes commuting easy. And the number of restaurants, the entertainment and everything else that comes with Nexton makes it a very attractive place to bring people to.”
In 2013, Nexton became South Carolina’s first gigabit community with a 100% fiber network that connects to every home and business. Since then, Nexton’s top available internet speed has increased to 10 gigabits per second. And that’s just one part of the solid, future-proof foundation of infrastructure that Nexton has laid.
“From a business perspective, and being an agent of the government, we have a lot of redundancy — redundant fiber, redundant electricity — that are requirements for us,” Cutts says. “Those were features that definitely attracted us to the Nexton community. Nexton’s infrastructure is unique.”
Cutts also mentions other factors that are often overlooked. Such as the fact that because of the waterways that crisscross the Charleston area, the highest-speed internet connections aren’t available everywhere. Nexton avoids this limitation.
Also, Nexton is inland enough that it doesn’t have the level of wind and flooding risk that areas closer to the coast have. In fact, Nexton is just outside the zone which requires that buildings be constructed to withstand 120 mile-per-hour winds. This allows buildings to have windows that are rated only to withstand 90 m.p.h., saving a significant amount of construction cost.
The bottom line
When SCRA created its facility in Nexton almost a decade ago, it was only the second building here. So in a certain regard, the company was taking a leap of faith. But Cutts says they trusted their experience and their research:
“I manage 1.3 million square feet of facilities for SCRA and I’ve been doing it for a long time. We did a very thorough search of the Tri County area, and Nexton was the obvious choice for us. And it’s really lived up to the vision that they placed before us.”