By: Joshua Lloyd, Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C – A major economic development project that’s been called by the code name “Project Horseshoe” for months has been revealed as another Ruiz Foods expansion in Florence County.
That project involves a $79 million investment and an additional 700 new jobs, which would nearly triple its workforce in Florence.
Officials with Ruiz were not available to comment on the expansion on Monday afternoon, and details of what the expansion entails and when construction will start have not been revealed.
South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers was the first to speak publically about the expansion that’s been under wraps for months.
“When they make the announcement, we’ll talk about helping supply them with South Carolina products as long as we can meet their quality standards,” he said Monday after speaking at the Florence Rotary Club. “It’s a great company.”
Ruiz Foods is on the Florence County Council’s June agenda, replacing the code name project.
“We’re very excited and pleased about their expansion,” said Ken Caudle, chairman of the council. “The final reading of fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement in on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting and I am confident we will unanimously approve that agreement.”
The Florence County Council previously approved two readings of the fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement for Project Horseshoe, meaning there will be a 6 percent tax on the development rather than the usual 10 percent.
In June 2014, Ruiz Foods announced the acquisition of the former H.J. Heinz facility in Florence. It said it would invest $55 million in an operation that eventually would bring more than 500 jobs to the Pee Dee. After renovating that facility, it began operation in January 2016.
Last year, construction of a large freezer distribution center brought the total square footage to 225,000 of the site inside Pee Dee Touchstone Energy City industrial park. Ruiz currently has $60 million invested in the Florence facility. According to Weathers, Ruiz employs 400 people in Florence.
Honda of South Carolina announced a $45 million, 115,000-square-foot expansion; McCall Farms announced a $23 million investment; and General Electric announced a $40 million expansion.
Ruiz Foods started in 1964 as a family-owned business in California and has now grown to be the nation’s leading distributor of frozen Mexican food. Nationally, Ruiz operates three manufacturing plants that distribute El Monterey and Tornados food products.
The El Monterey brand includes retail products such as burritos, tamales and empanadas.
Morning News reporter Jessica Imbimbo contributed to this report.