Kershaw County Economic Development Office | 80 Campus Dr. | P.O. Box 763 Camden, SC 29021 | Tel: 803-425-7685 | Fax: 803-425-7687 |

A Peek at the Competition

April 14, 2015

By: Jim Tatum
The Chronicle-Independent Newspaper
A group intent on spurring economic development in KershawCounty took a closer look at what one competitor has been doing.  
The group, led by Kershaw County Council Chairman JulianBurns, included County Administrator Vic Carpenter, County Economic DevelopmentDirector Peggy McLean, Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. FrankMorgan, attorney Ben Connell and banker Dennis Steuber. The group came backwith a number of impressions. An important one is Lexington County is seriousabout economic development, to the point where it has made some majorinvestments in its future -- and those investments have reaped rewards.
Another, equally important impression is Kershaw Countyneeds to become as engaged -- and quickly -- if it wishes to be a player in theeconomic development game in South Carolina, and the world.
The group visited Richland-Lexington School District 5’sCenter for Advanced Technical Studies (CATES), as well as an industrial park, wherethree major companies during the last six years have made their home.
Both are examples of what a community -- and a schooldistrict -- can do if everyone works together toward a common vision, Burns said.
It is this type of clear vision, careful planning andresolute action Burns says is vital to economic development in Kershaw County.
The group first spent a couple of hours touring CATES,funded by a referendum in 2008 and which opened its doors to 650 students inthe Lexington Five School District in 2013. The school offers a wide variety ofprograms of study in four different major areas, Fine Arts and Humanities;Business Management and Information Systems; Engineering, Manufacturing and IndustrialTechnology; and Health Science, Human and Public Services.
The building, which cost some $23.5 million to build andequip, is built to be multi-functional, welcoming, conducive to a learningatmosphere. The labs and work spaces are spacious and stocked with state of theart equipment. 
“Call it what you want, but this is what your competitionis doing,” Morgan said.
The school’s media arts studio has all the equipment,computers and programs used in television and movie production today. CATESAssistant Director Dr. Al Gates said only some of the larger market televisionstations in the state are better equipped.
But it goes farther than just curriculum and facilities, CATESDirector Dr. Bob Couch said.
“The students take ownership of their learning,” Couchsaid. “Every student can be creative and engaged, and we want them to do that.No learning can occur unless the student is engaged -- and the best way to dothat is to let them take ownership of it.”
For example, a student may take on a capstone project -- along-term learning challenge in which the student identifies a problem and thenworks toward a solution. Some of the results are quite impressive. One projectin the health sciences area now has a patent for a drinking “sippy” cup which canbe used by persons with severe spinal injuries, Couch said. A number ofstudents already have patents on their projects.
The school does not offer courses or programs of studyalready taught in district high schools, so as to avoid repetition of services,Gates said. They are also proactive in community, business and othereducational partnerships, he said.
One idea Kershaw County and the Kershaw County SchoolDistrict wants to implement is to relocate the district’s Applied TechnologyEducation Center (ATEC) to the new Central Carolina Technical College Campus atI-20 Exit 98. The project to move ATEC there was included in a failed schoolbond referendum in November 2014, Morgan noted. The idea is to centralizetechnical learning; students could take college courses and complete highschool requirements at the combined campus.
CATES’ mission is to “prepare every student to graduatecollege and career-ready, enter the global workforce and be successful and acontributing citizen in solving problems,” and to do this by teaching thestudents skills in high-tech, high paying areas while at the same timeencouraging them to think creatively, analytically and cooperatively.
Ultimately, one of the results is to help develop a localworkforce ready to take on the challenges of the global economy, Couch said,
CATES’ $23.5 million price tag, in today’s dollars, wouldtranslate to around $28 million to $29 million, Couch said.
Couch said his district’s referendum was not without itschallenges. However, Richland-Lexington School District 5 was able to sell theidea of the school by first agreeing on a common vision for what they wantedthe school to accomplish. Once they knew that, they could engage withappropriate people in the business community, general community, parents and --most importantly -- students.
The next stop for the Kershaw County group was LexingtonCounty’s Saxe-Gotha Industrial Park located off I-77. The site, first developedin 2007, is currently home to three major companies and a spec building -- andit is rapidly reaching capacity, according to Lexington County EconomicDevelopment Director Charles Whipple.
“Lexington County took a leap of faith and the county haspositioned itself to be a player,” Whipple said.
More specifically, Lexington County Council committed todevelop the industrial park and invested some $13 million in land, roads,signage and infrastructure. Fewer than 10 years later, the investment hasyielded a return of some $500 million in capital investment, Whipple said.
“It used to be that you could point to a cornfield and say,‘that’s the next industrial park,’” Whipple said. “You can’t do that anymore --the companies just won’t wait.”
However, taking care of what is already there is equallyimportant; Whipple said his goal is to call on 100 companies within  Lexington County each year.
“This is what our competitors are doing and this is what weneed to work on,” Burns said. “We need to invest in ourselves. They haveinvested in roads, in signage, in buildings. We need to make ourselvescompetitive, build that workforce, develop product -- we have allowed too manyopportunities to get away.”
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"Kershaw County has a wonderful manufacturing base because we have a 'manufacturing attitude' about us. We are well-positioned for industry with convenient availability to land, sea, and air access to U.S. and world markets. Companies can look forward to a growing workforce to keep pace with their own growth."
-- Peggy McLean - Kershaw County Economic Development Director