Peggy McLean and Lauren Reeder’s job descriptions are unique. Unique to the point that McLean often offers what she calls Economic Development 101 to people when they ask, “What do you do?” McLean works as the director of the Kershaw County Economic Development Office. Reeder is the marketing and administrative assistant.
“A lot of people don’t really know what economic development is, so I typically go through that with them first,” McLean said. “We have three main focuses: recruiting new industry, expanding existing industry and improving product development.”
The process of recruiting begins with the question of whether an expanding company wants to stay where it is or move somewhere else. If the company decides to move, it assembles a team and starts looking at locations. The company takes into account where its markets are and where it can get raw materials. It also looks at each site’s proximity to interstates as well as ports and/or airports as these factors influence how products will be distributed.
Prospective businesses acquire this information by reviewing the different counties’ websites. After gathering data, the company and its consultants review which counties have the best attributes and start making cuts. After several cuts are made, calls are made and site visits set up.
With this in mind, it is clear that the upkeep of the Kershaw County Economic Development Office’s website is an absolutely necessary part of attracting new industry, McLean said. The website serves as the first connection potential new industries have with the area. An industry will not set up a site visit if it is not impressed by the image set forth on the website, she said.
As marketing assistant, Reeder ensures the site stays current and easily navigable so that prospects can learn all about Kershaw County without the hassle of having to make a phone call. Along with the website, Reeder maintains the county’s social media functions, such as Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, which are especially important as more and more businesses are leaning towards these outlets as viable means of communication and information exchange.
Once an industrial site visit occurs, the prospect wants logistics. Company representatives may want to talk to utility providers to make sure they can get the level of service needed to run their operation, McLean said. They also make sure the site looks as good in person as it did on the website.
“Economic development is a team activity,” McLean pointed out. “Not just one person does it. All the elements of a community impact development. A prospective company wants to see what type of community it’s entering. It so often is a matter of the right time, the right setting and the right people.”
She said companies are looking for the complete package. They take into account the upkeep of roads and sidewalks, reputation of the school system, availability of recreational opportunities and other such factors. This is all evaluated during the site visit, along with the attractiveness and functionality of the site itself.
After the visit, cuts are made again and candidates are narrowed down to three to four sites. Then, incentives are discussed. The economic development office works with the county on developing incentive packages.
Confidentiality is key throughout the process, McLean said, but especially at this point. Most companies insist upon keeping their plans private while they are in the formative phase. There are several reasons for confidentiality, McLean said: businesses don’t want their competitors knowing their plans, they don’t want the price of the site to go up, they don’t want their investors and employees worrying or getting excited over something that is only a possibility at that time and not a reality.
McLean said that when her office builds a reputation of confidentiality, businesses become attracted to Kershaw County because they feel their privacy will be maintained.
“When the (S.C.) Department of Commerce sees that the county has established this reputation of confidentiality, they are more prone to bring more new business,” said McLean.
This is why much of what she does as far as recruiting new industry has to be done outside of the public eye, she said.
Still, McLean said much of her success in recruiting rests upon how well Kershaw County appears as a whole. Industries are looking for a complete package when they decide to relocate. McLean sees one of the most crucial factors in making a county attractive is having a viable work force in place.
She is very active with readySC, a statewide workforce training agency that works with the state’s technical colleges to train and prepare high school graduates for industrial work. The program is free of charge to the company and provides training that is specific to the company, not just generalized industrial preparation. This system of development helps improve workers’ skill sets, making them more competent and desirable to new employers and proving to new industry that there is a work force in existence for them to utilize.
Programs such as this bring more career opportunities into Kershaw County for residents while also providing businesses trained and able employees. It’s hugely beneficial to all involved, McLean said.
“My job has many different responsibilities,” she said. “I’m a product developer, I do PR, I’m a fund raiser, a landlord, a marketer, a planner, a spokesperson, an educator.
“I am basically the salesperson for the county.”