Kershaw County Economic Development Office | 80 Campus Dr. | P.O. Box 763 Camden, SC 29021 | Tel: 803-425-7685 | Fax: 803-425-7687 | econ.develop@kershaw.sc.gov
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THE PORT OF CHARLESTON

Economic Development: Many Parts in Motion

April 1, 2015

By JIM TATUM
C-I (Camden, S.C.) senior staff writer
jtatum@chronicle-independent.com

All things considered, Kershaw County seems to be holdingits own in the world of economic development.

But like anything else, there is always room forimprovement – the trick is determining exactly what.

Since 2006, Kershaw County has seen 17 announcements representing 1,479jobs and $392.23 million in capital investment. Of these announcements, 13 wereexpansions of existing businesses and four were new announcements, according tofigures provided by SC Dept. of Commerce. The four new business announcementsoccurred in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012, according to the figures. One of thoseinitially projected no new jobs and no capital investment.

Still, the numbers represent a strong, well-positioned and diverseindustrial base, Kershaw County Economic Development Director Peggy McLeansaid.  In fact, Kershaw County currentlyhas Fee In Lieu of Taxes agreements with 11 companies; these generated morethan $3.6 million for the county last year, she said.

“There is a lot of industry here that people don’t really know about –companies from all over the world, representing a variety of businesses andproducts,” she said.  “It’s a trulyinternational community.”        

While no new companies have located here since 2012, the fact thecompanies who are here continue to re-invest in their Kershaw County facilitiesand sites speaks to their continued commitment not only to this community butto the fact that Kershaw County is a desirable place for them to be, she said.

“We have had no new companies locate plants in Kershaw County over thepast few years but we are fortunate to have a strong existing industry basethat continues to invest in their Kershaw County plants,” McLean said.  “Their commitment to their Kershaw Countyoperations proves that we are indeed a good place to do business.”

Which brings up the question raised by a number of people in thecommunity, including Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns: why doesKershaw County seem to be missing out on new business announcements?

The answer appears to be multi-faceted, complex and in some waysnon-definitive. One vital component is that any given area needs product --that is, available buildings, property and industrial sites.

The other component, equally important, is workforce development, McLeansaid.  Growing Central Carolina TechnicalCollege, partnering with the Applied Technology Education Center and others,and centrally locating those resources will help develop a skilled workforceand make the area more attractive to companies, she said.

Bottom line: companies locate to places that meet the criteria theyseek, say state and local economic development officials.

According to information provided by SC Department of CommerceSpokeswoman Allison Skipper, the site selection process basically works in thisorder: a company performs a needs assessment, identifies qualifyingareas/regions, makes initial contact with those regions and exchangesinformation, specific properties/communities are identified, company visits,more information is exchanged, finalist locations are selected, negotiationsbegin and, ultimately, the winner is identified.

Some of the important factors companies seek include available skilledlabor, highway accessibility, labor costs, occupancy or construction costs,availability of ICT services, buildings, corporate tax rates, state and localincentives, low union profile, energy availability/cost, tax exemptions,right-to-work state,  availability ofland, expedited permitting and proximity to major markets, according to theinformation provided.

Companies also consider quality of life issues, including low crimerates, accessibility to healthcare facilities, housing costs and availability,ratings of public schools, recreational opportunities, proximity tocolleges/universities, climate and cultural opportunities.

The state’s economic development priorities include developing andmaintaining a business friendly environment, inventory, infrastructure andworkforce, Skipper said.

While most people may not be aware of it, activity in Kershaw County isstrong, McLean said. The economic development office, which has a $750,000operating budget funded by revenues generated from the FILOT agreements, worksclosely with the Department of Commerce, Central South Carolina Alliance,utilities and other allies to promote Kershaw County, McLean said.  All of these groups are actively recruitingindustries. The county works to keep these entities informed and up-to-date onwhat the county has to offer.

Governmental entities are doing their parts as well, she said.

“As far as that goes, everyone from the top down – state to local -- hasbeen very helpful and supportive,” McLean said.“We’ve had no problems there.”

The biggest line items in the Economic Development budget are for siteand product development, McLean said.

“We must have sites, parks and buildings ready for industrialprospects,” she said. “We have to make sure all infrastructure and utilitiesare in place, and we have to perform all due diligence – environmental, wetlandidentification, soil reports, archeological issues, endangered species – sothat prospects know the property is ready for building, “

Currently, the county’s mega-site is certified and two other sites arein the final stages of the certification process. The county is also finishinga water line to Governor’s Hill Industrial Park, she said.

In addition, the county is finishing an evaluation of all the sites andproducts which will help determine what improvements need to be made and howmuch these will cost.

“We hope to have a development plan within a month,” McLean said.

McLean is also constantly reaching out to industry site consultants, shesaid. The economic development office website is one of the most valuable toolsfor showcasing the county, she said. It is currently being evaluated and willbe upgraded.

Most of the significant projects in recent times have visited KershawCounty, including the Beretta gun manufacturing company, which eventuallylocated in Tennessee. In a number of these cases, the companies ultimatelychose to go elsewhere, citing such reasons as closer proximity to theCharlotte, N.C. airport, or suppliers, or customers.

“After every site visit, I always seek feedback from the Department ofCommerce as to how we did, what we could have done differently, and every timethey have assured us that we presented ourselves well,” she said. “If there areany problems in that respect, no one has brought them  to our attention.”

McLean did note that counties who invest in themselves are going to bemore successful. For example, CTI Tire ultimately chose Chester County overKershaw County. Both counties had available mega-site industrial sites,however, Chester County had spent some $4 million in grading and preparing landon its mega-site, which ultimately swayed the company’s final decision, shesaid.

The bottom line, McLean said, isthe location has to fit the given company’s criteria – and each project isdifferent.

That doesn’t mean Kershaw County is a non-starter, however, it does meanthat the county needs to be at the top of its game.

“We are well-positioned with regard to road infrastructure, industrialsites, buildings, utilities, labor force and pro-business government,” McLeansaid. “But we need to be better – we can’t just be good, we have to be great,because other counties are.”

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"The hospitality of this gracious community will entice you to enjoy a place of history, horses, recreation, festivals, shopping, and dining. Kershaw County provides everything you need: a pro-business community, a top-ranked public school system, plenty of leisure and cultural activities, beautiful parks, and a phenomenal quality of life."
-- Liz Horton, Executive Director for Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor's Center