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Economic Development Summit draws large crowd
Caldwell (Web).jpg
Didi Caldwell

Kershaw County is on the right track in its quest to recruit new industry.

That was a key point three economic development professionals reiterated to the more than 75 people who attended Tuesday’s economic development summit held at the Kershaw County Economic Development Office (KCEDO).

The summit, hosted by the KCEDO in conjunction with the S.C. Department of Commerce and the Kershaw County Committee of 100, was a chance for the public to learn more about economic development in general and what Kershaw County is trying to accomplish specifically.

“A good team, a championship team, develops a habit of critical self-examination,” Kershaw County Council Chair Julian Burns said. “We are two years into this strategy, and you can see some of the successes already.”

Burns noted that the VisionKershaw 2030 plan, which was a collaborative effort between county officials, stakeholders and the public, outlines what the county wants to accomplish in a number of areas, including economic development. The summit, he said, was an opportunity to see how Kershaw County is progressing to deliver the goals set in that plan.

The summit featured three speakers; Nelson Lindsay, director of the S.C. Deptartment of Commerce’s Global Business Division; James Chavez, president and CEO of the S.C. Power Team, the economic development organization of the state’s 20 electric cooperatives; and Didi Caldwell, principal and consultant for Global Location Strategies, a corporate relocation consulting firm.

Lindsay gave a brief outline of economic development activity statewide. South Carolina receives a good mix of domestic and international interest. In fact, he said, South Carolina has consistently been at the top of the list for international interest.

“We’re usually in the top three for international contacts,” he said. “This started in the 1960s, with a lot of the textile manufacturers.”

These days, the top industry sectors are automotive/aeronautic, food and beverage, agri-business and transportation, Lindsay noted.

Lindsay also said a number of factors have changed in recent years. For example, the availability of infrastructure is key, he said.

“These days, water, sewer, electric and gas are a given -- you have to have it,” he said. “If you don’t, have it, forget it.”

He said 2018 was a good year, although activity slowed down at the end of the year before picking up again in January.

“We had a solid year   --  not record breaking -- but given all the uncertainty, especially at national and regional levels, we did very well,” he said.

Chavez, the next speaker, agreed. Communities have to invest in themselves or they are simply going to miss out, he said, drawing comparisons between two areas he had previously worked, Tift County, Ga. And Clarksville, Tenn.  Tift County was much slower in making those investments, with the result that the economy has slowed and they are now experiencing a decreasing population as people move to places where there are more jobs, Chavez said.

Clarksville, on the other hand, has been very proactive in a number of areas and is growing, with a robust economy, he said.

“You have made investments in properties, in yourself,” he said. “I want to assure you that at the end of the day, you are doing the right thing. If you stay the course, you will get your hits.”

I think Kershaw County is on the right track, doing the right things -- if anything, you could be more aggressive.
Didi Caldwell

Caldwell, the keynote speaker, discussed some of the criteria companies require in locations and how Kershaw County measured up.

“I am sitting in the boardrooms with executives working to help them decide exactly what they need in a site,” she said. “Bear in mind, each project is different, and some things might not be as important to some as others.”

Caldwell said to even be initially in the running, a community needs to have assets in place and ready. It is ideal for the community to own its assets and to have them as shovel-ready as possible, she said.

“The megasite, for example, has some strong assets -- environmental studies have been done, permits are in place -- but the fact that the community does not hold it right now, and the options are running out, would give one of my clients pause for consideration.”

Other factors, such as education system, utility rates, workforce availability/viability, and quality of life come in to play as well.

Interestingly enough, the number of available professional welders in the area is a factor in a company’s decision to consider a given area, she said.

Caldwell did reiterate a point a number of people have made for some time -- that Act 388, an act passed by the S.C. legislature that essentially shifted the tax burden almost exclusively to the business sector -- has placed some unique burdens on economic development.

“South Carolina has the highest corporate income tax in the country – almost three percent above average,” she said. “Consequently, the state has to also come up with the largest incentives. So when people ask, ‘why are they giving away all that money in Fee In Lieu of Taxes agreements,’ the answer is, they’re not giving it away; they’re trying to get back.”

All in all, Kershaw County is not only making the right decisions and choices to make itself a viable contender for future industrial development, but it should consider upping the ante a little, Caldwell said.

“I think Kershaw County is on the right track, doing the right things -- if anything, you could be more aggressive,” Caldwell said. For example, the bond issue the county did in 2015 for economic development was an important step and a sound investment in the community, she said.

She acknowledged that, while no one can predict if, when or where a company may locate to a given area, these are things communities must do if they wish to be seriously considered.

“I can tell you, if you don’t build it, then they won’t come,” she said.