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Economic development

Posted: October 3, 2014 9:51 a.m.
Updated: October 3, 2014 9:52 a.m.

When a radio interviewer recently asked a city council candidate about their plans to advance economic development in Camden and Kershaw County, the candidate answered that economic development is rarely a one-man show, but rather a team effort involving the city, the county and private investment.

Everything the city does, from burying the power lines downtown and in Dusty Bend, to providing façade grants for retail businesses, to sustaining our outstanding police force, fire department and public works, serves the vision of all of us working together to create a prosperous, attractive place to live, with the emphasis on “prosperous.” If the city now seems to be working overtime on beautification, the point is not beauty for beauty’s sake, but laying the groundwork for the many, interconnected components of economic transformation. It cannot be emphasized enough that at every stage private investment is welcomed and needed.

But, as we well know, economic development implies far more than an attractive Broad Street with a string of new retail shops, as important as smart shopping may be to what’s called, “quality of life.” Economic development in the present conversation addresses land, infrastructure -- everything needed for a company to move here.

Many people, certainly I, needed to be educated about how companies choose a location. In that regard, Peggy McLean, Kershaw County’s director of economic development, serves as an excellent teacher. As she will tell you, manufacturing firms are looking for basically the same things. In addition to incentive packages, they want sites already serviced with water and sewer, with convenient interstate access, existing rail lines, and international airports. Without that, quality of life might seem beside the point.

In recent years we have witnessed the economic transformation of the upstate: Greenville; Greer; and Spartanburg with BMW, Michelin and a host of auto parts manufacturing plants. And not just the upstate: last year the German tire maker, Continental Tire, moved into nearby Sumter with 1,700 jobs.

The overriding question: What about us?

A recent area newspaper article offers renewed hope for the Midlands:

… if a high-impact industry chooses to land in the Midlands, it probably won’t be in Richland or Lexington counties. The Midlands’ most populous counties simply don’t have the amount of acreage already assembled and outfitted with utilities, roads and railroads to accommodate what economic development officials call a “whale.”… economic development officials say a more likely location for one of these job creators would be at one of the “mega sites” already staked out in Kershaw, Sumter, Clarendon or Orangeburg counties. And at least one official says it’s just a matter of time before the Midlands region attracts a whale.

The list of Kershaw County industrial parks with available acreage includes: Governor's Hill Industrial Park, 210 available acres; Steeplechase Industrial Park, 139 available acres (458 total acres); Central South Carolina Megasite in Lugoff, 1, 468 available acres; Heritage Pointe Industrial Park, 60 available acres (300 total acres); Wateree Executive Park, 25 available acres (50 total acres); and the Emanuel Site (527 available acres).

The article goes on:

The Lugoff site has all the necessary accoutrements -- a rail line, a location adjacent to an interstate highway and water, sewer, electric and telecommunication service. It also is located within a one-hour drive of more than 1 million people, providing an ample workforce. The site also is certified, meaning all potential requirements, such as geotechnical, archeological and soil studies, already have been completed and paid for by the county and documented by experts in the field. That saves the company substantial time and money.

In the larger world, despite ever-present greed and the well-publicized tendency of some companies to pay subsistence wages, the bottom line is that with all checks and balances in place, we still need to work at creating a flourishing, vibrant economy with what might be described as “middle-class paychecks.” That’s the goal. That’s the intention.

The reverse argument is also true: we still depend on quality of life. Readers of the Chronicle-Independent might have seen the recent announcement of city council’s commitment to two projects that represent considerable investment of city resources: one, refurbishing Rhame Arena into a showplace for regional and city recreation and cultural events; and two, partnering with the county for the expansion of the Central Carolina Technical College, specifically for a convention center to attract regional, if not national conventions and meetings, as well as provide space for local and regional events.

Make no mistake: we’re on a roll!

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