Industrial product improvements are paving the way for big business in Kershaw
By Leigh Savage
Kershaw County is in the midst of a $17 million industrial product improvement plan, and Economic Development Director Peggy McLean says that’s one way to show prospective industries her community’s ability to get things done. “We’re here to help them be profitable,” she says. “We want to reduce any obstacles and help solve any problems.”
The plan, approved by Kershaw County Council in 2015, is the result of an internal evaluation of ways to improve industrial sites, parks, and buildings, which led to a prioritized list. Completed projects include clearing wooded parcels of land and road improvements at Steeplechase Industrial Park.
Construction has also been completed on Heritage Pointe, a 50,000-square-foot spec building that can be expanded to 200,000 square feet. “It has a wide variety of prospects,” McLean says. “We’ve shown it several times.” The 26-acre site in Lugoff is priced at $2.6 million.
In February, County Council approved plans to initiate permitting and engineering on a portion of the Central S.C. MegaSite, which will allow a company to move in more quickly. The Lugoff megasite is 1,400 acres and includes access to rail, making it appropriate for very large industries. McLean says its location and the work already done, including an environmental report, “make it one of the most attractive the state has,” and it is under consideration by multiple interested buyers.
In addition to preparing industrial product, Kershaw is also focused on workforce development. With unemployment in Kershaw County hovering at 3%, “we have to get creative and work harder at developing a talented workforce,” McLean says.
That starts with strengthening technical education offerings at Central Carolina Technical College, which serves Sumter, Kershaw, Lee, and Clarendon counties. The Kershaw County Campus was recently expanded with a second building, where the Kershaw Economic Development offices are located along with classrooms, computer labs, a learning resource center, testing center, student lounge, and more.
The expansion has allowed the school to increase course offerings in industrial engineering and technology, in particular the Basic Mechatronics Certificate and the Advanced Mechatronics certificate. McLean says this is an expanding field that feeds directly into manufacturing, including textile manufacturing, a top industry in the area.
“People think of old-fashioned textile mills, but it has evolved, how they make the product, and much more technology is utilized,” she says.
Top employers in the area include Invista, a textile plant that makes carpet fibers and employs more than 1,000; Cardinal Health, which makes medical gauze; and other textile and nonwoven material makers. A 1.8 million-square-foot Target distribution center employs around 700.
The Central Carolina campus in Camden is also the new home to another key aspect of area workforce development: an acclaimed technical high school. This fall, Applied Technology Education Campus, or ATEC, will be moving from east Camden to the joint campus with Central Carolina Tech.
“It’s a vibrant technical high school, with programs in a variety of technical fields,” McLean says. “Students can come here for the high school, and they’re right across from the technical college, where they can take dual credit courses. And industries can come recruit from the technical high school and college.”
The county’s commitment to technical education is so great, she adds, that if a student graduates on time with a 2.5 or better GPA, he or she can then attend Central Carolina tuition-free for two years. She says more students are realizing that they can build a lucrative and satisfying career without a four-year degree. “They’re finding a two-year degree or a specialized certificate can lead to very rewarding careers and the demand is local.”
Last year, Kershaw County was named an All-America City by the National Civic League, and was lauded for embracing change in a rapidly growing community and “balancing its rural past and suburban future.” McLean says the quality of life in the area is just one more tool to entice industrial and manufacturing companies to the area. “It’s very important that if a company is bringing people into the community, are they going to be able to convince them to live, work, and play in this area? This is a wonderful place to live, work, and play.”