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Columbia Business Monthly

Food and beverage manufacturers and a proximity to OEMs help power the county’s economy

By Dustin Waters

Location is key for Calhoun County’s success, with local economic developers considering opportunities both in and out of county lines. Leading growth in Calhoun County? The food and beverage industry, as well as advanced manufacturers and plastic and metal products.

Home to one of only half a dozen Starbucks roasting plants in the United States, the caffeine king employs more than 100 workers in Calhoun County. DAK Americas serves as the county’s leading employer, with the plastic and resin manufacturer totaling around 430 employees at their Calhoun County operations. DAK is followed by Devro Inc., one of the world’s leading suppliers of edible casings for meat packaging, with around 300 workers locally.

Experiencing continuous growth since 1996, producer of high-performance polymer tubing Zeus Industrial Products announced a $76 million expansion in 2018. With products serving the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries, Zeus expects to add 350 new hires over the next few years.

In 2016, Southeast Frozen Foods marked the third expansion of their Calhoun County facilities since 2007 with an additional investment of $6 million and 90 new jobs.

All together, Calhoun County has celebrated the public announcements of more than $116 million in expansions since 2015 and the creation of 309 additional jobs in the county over that time.

Of course, with this level of growth in an area with a population of a little more than 15,000 means that unemployment is nearly nonexistent and creating skilled workers is a top priority.

As of last December, Calhoun County’s unemployment rate sat just above 4 percent. According to the Central S.C. Alliance, the private-public not-for-profit organization dedicated to growing the economy in Calhoun County and much of central South Carolina, there is still ample access to a skilled workforce throughout the region.

“Within a 60-minute drive, the county has access to over 886,000 people in the labor force,” explained Central S.C. and Calhoun County representatives in a written response. “Helping with the accessibility is the well-connected interstate network; Interstate 26 runs through the county and connects directly to two major population centers in the state—the Columbia and Charleston MSAs.”

Central S.C. and county representatives also tout the flexibility of Calhoun County’s labor force, providing employers with a great resource of workers with transferable skills. Those skills are enhanced by training programs, like those of the S.C. Technical College System that oversees readySC and Apprenticeship Carolina, which are always adapting and customizing courses for skills that are in demand from existing industries.

There also exists an abundance of two- and four-year higher education institutions locally, including Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and Midlands Technical College, that have homed in on the careers of the future and are building programs around those industries. Currently, 85 percent of county residents earn a high school diploma or higher, while 18 percent earn at least a bachelor’s degree.

Moving forward, economic developers in Calhoun County intend to focus on collaborating with local schools to push the enhancement of workforce skills, as well as marketing the county globally as an ideal place to locate business. Other goals include continued infrastructure improvements, such as the widening of Interstate 26 from Calhoun County to the Port of Charleston, developing the 783-acre Eastman Industrial Site, and marketing the new Calhoun County Spec building located just off I-26.

Looking back at the importance of location, Calhoun County attributes much of its success to what’s happening with major manufacturers just to the east. Boeing’s operations in North Charleston, along with nearby Volvo Cars and Mercedes Vans plants, have had a trickle-down effect as suppliers seeking a location within a convenient proximity to those statewide investments find Calhoun County to be an attractive option. And it’s not just a symbiotic relationship with major players along South Carolina’s Lowcountry that has Central S.C. and Calhoun County economic developers feeling optimistic about their local potential. In their opinion, Calhoun’s prospects for growth go well beyond the less than 400 square miles that make up the county.

As explained by Central S.C. and Calhoun representatives, “The county is in a prime location—being sandwiched between two of the state’s major MSAs, having a smooth commute to other major metros (Charlotte, Augusta), quick access to the port via I-26, etc.—and is along a potentially explosive corridor of growth along that area due to trickle-down of suppliers from major [original equipment manufacturers] and population expansion tied to job opportunities.”