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Column: Another side of the equation

Posted: March 22, 2018 4:33 p.m.
Updated: March 23, 2018 1:00 a.m.

In today’s edition, we are taking a deep dive into economic development, specifically the industrial sector.

But economic development is more than just about industry. It’s also about retail, services (including hotels), restaurants, and more.

This year, as I’ve expanded my choices of books to read, I’ve read two on economics. Sounds boring, I know, but I wanted to see if I could learn a thing or two. The first book, which I thought was a primer, turned out to be a biased diatribe against “liberal” economic policies. I wanted an education, not a sermon, regardless of which direction that sermon ran. Luckily, the second book did the trick, providing me a very balanced history of economics from ancient times all the way up to 2015.

Reading that book does not make me an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I doubt I could recite much of any of it back to you. It did, however, give me more of a ... sense, I guess is the right word ... of economics than I had before, and that will have to do.

With that caveat, I want to focus here on retail because that’s always the “next big thing” Camden and Kershaw County seem to be waiting for outside of a giant industrial announcement.

Around Camden, people have been dreaming about the next major grocery store (Publix always seems to come up), something to replace the old Kmart, something to start the revitalization of the old Bi-Lo shopping center, or something to fill up empty spaces downtown.

I would love to see all of those things happen. I’m especially interested in mixed-use concepts, combining retail/services with upper floor housing. I’d also like to see a transformation of the old city hall/opera house.

Neither should we neglect the rest of the county in this respect. East Camden could use an extra kick. And there are spaces in Lugoff, Elgin, Bethune, Cassatt and elsewhere that could benefit from additional retail as the county’s population continues to increase.

The good news is that some of this has already happened. During the past few years, we’ve seen a number of Dollar General and similar stores pop up along U.S. 1.

Here’s a look at some of the stories we labeled “business” during the second half of 2017 on our website that aren’t industry related:

“After 68 years, Blake & Ford says final good-bye”

“Larry Baker now at Southeast Insurance”

“Local realtors form Camden Group Realty”

“Bolen joins Mill Village Veterinary Hospital”

“Hampton Inn Groundbreaking”

“Mid-Carolina Credit Union breaks ground on flagship branch in Lugoff”

“Mills joins AgSouth Farm Credit”

“Assisted living/memory care center coming to Camden in 2018”

“Getting closer” (a story on the progress of what became Starbucks, Firehouse Subs and Kay Jewelers)

Notice that a number of those headlines have to do with the expansion/moving of or folks joining established businesses. The one I’m waiting to see come to fruition is the living/memory care center.

If I focus back on retail, though, the Starbuck/Firehouse Subs/Kay Jewelers story is probably the biggest one of 2017, along with O’Reilly Auto Parts opening its Elgin location.

Yes, I’m focusing on “big.” There are plenty of smaller businesses that have opened (and closed) around the county. I’m not discounting that. Small businesses employ many people, and I applaud and appreciate their contributions to our economy.

The reason I’m focusing on “big” is that a large retail outlet or grocery store is like a booster shot in the arm to the area where that store decides to set up shop. While, in many cases, big retail leads to smaller businesses closing, there are also times when they act as a leader for other businesses to come here.

Using Camden as an example (because it’s where I live and see things every day), I don’t think we can afford to continue staring at the empty Kmart and Bi-Lo. Both residents and visitors judge us by what they see, and when they see blank or boarded up windows, they perceive something wrong. So do small or medium-sized prospective businesses that would otherwise like to locate nearby.

If, as some of the officials interviewed for our economic development stories believe, we need to be aggressive on marketing Kershaw County to attract industry, then I believe we can do no less to attract retail and service businesses and the like to our communities.

I am sure the city and county are working behind the scenes in this regard. My hope is that their efforts will produce announcements that will give us a reason to cheer for new jobs, added tax base and the enhanced sense that Kershaw County is a great place to live, work and shop.


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