In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement that HBD’s Thermoid plant in Elgin will be closing soon, Kershaw County Councilman Jimmy Jones took time during council’s meeting that night to once again call for a “new direction” when it comes to economic development. Thermoid announced Tuesday that it will discontinue operations after May 31 and only to fulfill existing orders or new orders that can be accommodated before that date.
Jones claimed that no one is more dedicated to economic development than he is, but wanted to remind citizens and taxpayers that a “new direction, new focus and new accountability” are needed for such efforts to be successful. He said that county council has increased the economic development office’s budget by more than 230 percent -- from $330,000 per year to $750,000 per year -- in recent times, hiring new employees and granting large salary raises.
“County council has committed over $31 million in taxpayer money and taxpayer debt for economic development. The result of this huge increase in spending has been the loss of over 600 announced jobs and the loss of over $100 million in announced investment. Now, as we see in the news, Kershaw County has a closing of a long-term existing industry. It’s another close to 75 jobs lost,” Jones said, referencing an apparently outdated number of Thermoid employees listed on the Kershaw County Economic Development Office’s website.
An HBD vice president said there are 52 full-time employees currently at Thermoid.
Jones went on to say that with council holding its first budget workshop earlier Tuesday, it was time for a critical examination of why economic development efforts have failed to date despite what he called “lavish” spending.
The chairman of county council says we need to have a critical examination of economic development and I agree,” Jones said, noting the C-I’s examination of the issue and that council should take notice of offered solutions. “We need to focus on success and wise spending and the wise marketing of our MegaSite through the Department of Commerce and not focus on continuing failed policies in throwing more money at the past’s lack of success.”
Saying that citizens deserve nothing less, Jones called for a reexamination of “where we are, why we have not been successful, and what we need to do to be successful.”
Responding both to Jones and to Jeff Mattox, a former co-chair of the Kershaw County Republican Party who spoke during public forum, Council Chairman Julian Burns disagreed with the notion that government believes it is the only answer. As an example, he spoke of Katie Cantey of the Health Services District of Kershaw County Board of Trustees.
“On her own, (she) went out and began to work on internet mapping, a very important issue for economic development, for commercial development, for the school district -- it’s increasing going to such things as distance learning via the internet and WiFi … where the holes are and where they’re not,” Burns said.
He said Cantey collaborated with County Administrator Vic Carpenter and County Planner Michael Conley, the health district and Community Medical Clinic.
“As you know, telemedicine is coming and you’ve heard me talk about 5G and I know that our own EMTs could use telemedicine. These things make possible amazing things for our young people, our businesses, and even our adults, and not just to watch Netflix on the way home from the school bus,” Burns said. “This allows amazing things and working now with private industry, with AT&T and the other providers once that’s done, we then enter into an opportunity for economic development with economic zones as well.”
Burns said Cantey will be providing a demonstration of her work today that will be turned into an action plan over the summer.
After congratulating the Kershaw County Clean Community Commission for its recent county-wide pick-up day, Burns turned to addressing Jones’ comments more directly. He said that he had met again with S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster.
“And, once again, he said that we are on the right track and we’ve made the necessary adjustments so that those of you who add up all the numbers and look in the rear-view mirror, this county’s looking through the windshield going ahead,” Burns said. “I regret that some of the numbers that I’ve heard here cited tonight are totally wrong, and I will endeavor with that individual to straighten that out, but the fact is we have the support of our governor, of our Committee of 100, and of our community to move forward on economic development.”
Lastly, Burns commended the economic development office, the town of Elgin and Elgin Mayor Melissa Emmons on working with Thermoid ahead of its decision to close “for what they did to provide a soft landing for those people that were let go. There were 52 people … and I would make sure that we all know that, with compassion, we’ll continue to work with them and the company because we have a few months before that business finally closes.”
In other business Tuesday, council unanimously:
• passed first reading of an ordinance authorizing the rezoning of 27.91 acres of land on the west side of U.S. 521 North at Youngs Bend Road from residential RD-2 to General Development for the purpose of the current owner to build an RV park with cabins across from the Carolina Motorsports Park;
• passed first reading of an ordinance approving and authorizing the execution of a 10-year extension to a base lease and operating agreement between the county and the S.C. Equine Promotion Foundation for the operation of the S.C. Equine Park near I-20 Exit 101;
• approved a memorandum of understanding reinstating a five-year agreement with the city of Camden for the county to provide maintenance of the dirt infield portion of a softball field at Kirkwood Park while the city continues to maintain all other park facilities;
• proclaimed April as Sexual Assault / Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month;
• proclaimed April as Fair Housing Month; and
• proclaimed the week of April 14-20 as National Public Safety Telecommunictors Week, recognizing the county’s dispatchers and others involved in providing critical communication services for public safety agencies and the public.