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Columbia Business Monthly

With existing business expanding and an eye on future growth, Lexington is positioned for a bright future

Feb 04, 2019 11:14AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By Richard Breen

For years, marketing experts have said it’s more efficient to grow business with existing clients than track down new clients. Lexington County could be an example of that theory.

The county is home to expansions that range from a boat manufacturer to the local hospital system, supporting a diverse economy for a local population that is growing just as quickly.

“We’re very busy,” says Mike Eades, the county’s economic development director. “It’s always good when our existing firms invest.”

Tidewater Boats LLC announced in early 2018 it would be renovating a building near its current Lexington facility. The $8.3 million expansion would create 100 jobs.

Nucor Building Systems also announced it would be adding 57,000 square feet to its Swansea facility. The $7 million investment is expected to create an estimated 60 jobs.

Commercial Metals Co., which has three locations in the county, cut the ribbon on a non-ferrous metal recycling plant in Lexington. It represented a $21 million investment and created 40 jobs.

Standing out
Perhaps the most high-profile example of growth in Lexington County is taking shape at Lexington Medical Center.

LMC is building a 10-story, 545,000-square-foot tower that will add 71 beds to its 438-bed main campus near the intersection of U.S. Highway 278 and Interstate 26. The $400 million project will increase capacity in several other ways, from operating rooms to parking spaces.

“Approximately 300-400 construction workers are on site during the week,” says Tod Augsburger, LMC’s president and chief executive. Contractor Brasfield & Gorrie has rotated more than 4,500 skilled workers at the new Lexington Medical complex, hospital officials say, with construction employment peaking at approximately 600.

LMC is the county’s largest employer, with a staff of more than 6,500. A 2017 study conducted by the University of South Carolina concluded that for every 10 jobs created at LMC, there are 10 additional jobs created elsewhere in the county.

The study estimated that LMC had a direct economic impact of $453.7 million for Lexington County. Its payroll was $517.9 million and it generated nearly $1.6 million in state tax revenue annually.

Eades says it’s not unusual for economic development prospects to ask about local health care.

“We provide information about our capabilities to share with companies as they consider operations in the Midlands,” Augsburger adds. In addition to the main campus in West Columbia, LMC’s network includes approximately 60 physician practices in Richland and Lexington counties, five community medical centers, a skilled nursing facility, and an occupational health facility.

“It’s a quality of life issue and it’s a business issue,” Eades says.

Planning for growth
According to the latest estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, Lexington County’s population is 290,642. Data analytics firm ProximityOne predicts Lexington County will grow to 369,455 people by 2030.

“With that (hospital) expansion, they’ve got the foresight to see where Lexington’s going in the next 20 years and they’re preparing for that,” says Otis Rawl, president and chief executive of the Greater Lexington Chamber and Visitor Center.

Looking ahead, Rawl says he’d like to see some progress made on an expressway that would create a direct link from I-26 to Columbia Metropolitan Airport, which was known as Lexington County Airport when it first opened in the 1940s.

“If we ever expect to expand our airport and recruit some headquarters, we’re going to need to take a look at completing that,” he says.

Rawl would also like the county to look into creating a megasite—typically defined as 1,000 acres or more of “shovel ready” industrial property—somewhere along Interstate 20. It could attract large-scale manufacturing and “create some tax revenue and create jobs,” he says.

Unemployment is already low in the county, 2.6 percent as of November. But 19,498 people moved to the county within the past year, and 47,747 travel at least 30 minutes to their jobs.

“We’re still exporting a lot of people out of the county to go to work each day,” Eades says.

As for new business, Domino’s Pizza Inc. announced plans for a 67,000-square-foot processing facility in West Columbia that would create 75 jobs. It will manufacture dough and provide other supplies for Domino’s franchisees in the region.

“And there’s still some solar farm activity,” Eades says. “There’s one under construction and another two that are looking.”

Commercial Metals Co. hasn’t stopped expanding, either.

“We also plan an additional $10 million in capital investment during the spring of 2019 to build an insulated copper and aluminum wire recycling plant, which should add more than 10 additional jobs,” says Susan Gerber, public and investor relations manager with the company.