If 2020 were a round of golf, it’s safe to say that economic developers would like to take a mulligan on the front nine. The good news is that the match is far from over, and just like Tiger Woods’ comeback in the 2019 Masters, the back nine is looking strong.
There is no arguing that the coronavirus pandemic caused economic disruption rivaling the Great Depression. As challenging as it has been, South Carolina businesses large and small have put forth Herculean efforts to move forward, despite unprecedented hurdles.
While no one can say with certainty what South Carolina’s economic landscape will look like in the future, initial signs we are seeing across the Palmetto State are positive.
Projects are proceeding
While the impact of COVID-19 on existing businesses and future projects is varied from state to state, initial signs reflect well for South Carolina. With a solid manufacturing base intact, economic developers statewide are reporting positive signs of growth. McClancy Seasoning brought some zest with a recent announcement that the company will invest more than $9.4 million to expand its Lancaster County, S.C. operations. In addition, the family owned company is expected to create 108 new jobs, doubling its workforce.
The number of examples that show forward momentum in our state and our economy are plenty:
- Meiden America Switchgear’s new facility in Laurens County is bringing $8 million in investment and 41 new jobs.
- Tindall Corporation is investing more than $27.9 million and creating 20 new jobs in Spartanburg County.
- Kotane Logistics, a warehousing and packaging solutions company, is expanding operations and bringing 30 jobs to Berkeley County.
- Ross Stores, Inc. is expanding distribution operations in York County with a $68 Million investment and the creation of 700 jobs over five years.
Strong workforce development programs
While restaurants and hospitality remains one of the hardest-hit sectors of our economy, the initial numbers look better than the 40 percent hit initially predicted. Analysts now say that somewhere around 20 percent of restaurants and hospitality businesses will not reopen, casualties of the coronavirus.
Fallout from the pandemic is forcing people to transition from one job or career path to another; the South Carolina Technical College System is set up for immediate business development needs. Dr. Tim Hardee, SC Technical College System president, says many South Carolina businesses are still hiring high-skilled workers from the state’s 16 technical colleges and 64 satellite campuses. In addition, a number of the state’s workforce programs are positioned to get folks back in the game. readySC, a division of the technical college system, has worked with a number of existing companies as they retooled operations during the height of the pandemic, manufacturing ventilator masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) that offered a needed resource while boosting their financial bottom lines.
COVID-19 brought attention to the need for access to rural broadband. The South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association made rural broadband a legislative priority well before the pandemic struck. Social distancing amplified the need to bridge South Carolina’s digital divide, as families were forced to rely on the internet for work, school and even healthcare. According to recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Data, a half- million South Carolina residents have little or no broadband access; 94% live in rural areas.
No companies will want to set up shop in an area without Wi-Fi, and our leaders understand that now more than ever. Members of AccelerateSC and lawmakers want to set aside about $100 million from the CARES Act money the state is receiving from the federal government to expand broadband access in the state. The $100 million would improve broadband infrastructure and create hotspots across the state. A move to fill the broadband gaps in our state will benefit every sector in South Carolina.
When economic developers say they are “S.C. Strong,” they mean it. South Carolina’s resilience has always impressed me. Perhaps the most significant display of South Carolina’s tenacity is Seneca’s BorgWarner manufacturing facility.
First, the company faced a planned closure to cope with the threat of coronavirus; then, the plant took a direct hit from a powerful tornado in the early morning hours of April 13, causing major damage. Annie Caggiano, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance, said, “The times may be uncertain, but if we can overcome a global pandemic and an F3 tornado, we can get through anything with collaboration and teamwork.“
It is with that same sentiment that I know South Carolina will be okay.
I’m proud of the way our state is moving forward, promoting safety as a priority as we reopen for business. Economic development is, always has been, and will continue to be, about creating opportunity.
I’m continuing to pray that South Carolina is out of the rough and that our score card will once again show the upswing our state was experiencing before the pandemic hit.
About the Author – Richard K. Blackwell, a native of Greenville, S.C. is the Vice President of Development for the Southeast Region of the United States for Agracel, Inc. Blackwell serves on the board of directors for the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association (SCEDA) and currently is the Incoming President of the board of directors.