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Eckford honored for service to industry growth
Eckford with Haley and Hitt
Kershaw County's Karen Eckford (center) was honored Tuesday as one of the state's 51 economic development ambassadors for their respective communities. The recipients were recognized by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (left) and S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt (right).

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the S.C. Department of Commerce recently recognized Karen Eckford, vice president and city executive for NBSC in Camden, as an ambassador for economic development from Kershaw County.

Eckford was named an economic development ambassador during an awards ceremony Tuesday at the S.C. State House as part of Industry Appreciation Week. The ceremony recognized Eckford and 50 other individuals from all 46 counties for contributing to economic development in their local communities.

Industry Appreciation Week provides “an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to companies in the state for their many contributions to our communities” and build awareness that existing business fundamentally drives both the state and local economies, according to Department of Commerce officials.

Eckford plays a vital role in Kershaw County’s economic development, Commerce official said, through her service as chair of the Economic Development Committee of 100 and by sitting on the Economic Development Advisory Board. She has also served as chair of the United Way of Kershaw County campaign, chair of the United Way Board, member of the KershawHealth Foundation Board, former president of the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, president of the Camden Rotary Club, executive director of the Kershaw County Disabilities Foundation, member of the Kershaw County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, president of the board of the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County and board member of Food for the Soul.

Eckford is also a member of the Kershaw County Planning and Zoning Commission.

This year, Industry Appreciation Week noted the role of small businesses and manufacturers in South Carolina.

Commerce officials said that in most communities across the state, small businesses continue to play an important role in job creation. Small businesses employ 750,147 South Carolinians, or about 49 percent of all people employed by private industry in the state. Small businesses, they said, also make up a large proportion of the manufacturers in the state. More than 3,200 manufacturers are considered small businesses, which represent more than 88 percent of all manufacturers in the state, and those firms employ 70,000 state residents, Commerce officials said.

“Economic Development starts first and foremost on the ground level,” S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell said. “Today, we recognized some outstanding Palmetto State business leaders as ambassadors of economic development because of their hard work to advance the unified economic goals we share for South Carolina. The most valuable economic development resource our state has are those businesses that operate and succeed in the private sector every day.”

At the event, Haley focused on the manufacturing sector.

“We are bringing investments and new jobs every day,” Haley said. “In South Carolina, we build things. We’re building planes. We’re building automobiles. We’re building tires. We’re bringing in companies we never imagined we’d bring. Recruiting companies is a team effort and our team efforts are only going to get stronger.

Commerce officials said that more than 220,000 South Carolinians are employed in the manufacturing sector -- more than 12 percent of the state’s employed workforce. They said manufacturing accounts for more than $26 billion in goods and services produced in the state, which is 16.4 percent of South Carolina’s gross domestic product.

“Thanks to the hard work of our economic development community, South Carolina enjoyed numerous investments from world-class companies,” Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said. “With help from business and economic development leaders, our economic development team has recruited more than $5.12 billion in capital investments and 20,013 jobs to our state last year. It’s the efforts of our business and industry that allow us to do that.”

Commerce officials noted that during the past year, South Carolina continued to add to its list of “marquee companies” such as Bridgestone, Continental Tire, Michelin, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, TD Bank, ZF Group and more.

Tuesday’s ambassador awards presentation was one of many events occurring as part of Industry Appreciation Week.