Close to Columbia and Charleston, Clarendon wants to be known as the ‘Corridor of Opportunity’
By Cindy Landrum
County lines don't matter much in today's job market. That's good news for rural Clarendon County, located on Interstate 95 just 80 miles from the Port of Charleston and 60 miles from Columbia. Why? Because it is in the middle of what Clarendon County Economic Development Board Executive Director George Kosinski calls South Carolina's "Corridor of Opportunity."
"From a logistics standpoint, we have access to the port, but we're far enough away from Charleston so that companies don't have to compete with Charleston's job market," Kosinski says. "Most companies don't see county lines. We take more of a regional approach. We're recruiting globally and selling Clarendon County and the state of South Carolina."
That approach seems to be working. Since 2014, Clarendon County has seen manufacturing employment grow by nearly 25 percent.
"We've gone from 800 manufacturing jobs to over 1,000 today," he says. "That may not seem like a lot, but for a community with a population of 30,000, that's significant."
According to Kosinski's data, manufacturing growth has outpaced total workforce growth. Clarendon County has a labor force of 12,800. The Central South Carolina region has a workforce of more than 400,000.
Three manufacturers in Clarendon County announced plans to expand in 2018.
Meritor, a Troy, Michigan-based global supplier of drivetrain and braking systems for the commercial truck market, announced it would invest $5.2 million and add 31 jobs at its Manning plant.
Georgia Pacific said it would invest $4.5 million at its oriented strand board manufacturing plant in Alcolu. The investment in automation equipment will allow the plant to be more efficient and run a 24/7 operation, Kosinski says, adding that while the investment won't result in additional jobs now, it could in the future.
Bicycle Corporation of America, which builds bicycles for Walmart, Target, and Amazon, opened a plant in Manning in 2014. In December, the company announced it would invest $5 million in the former Federal Mogul facility in Summerton to add two new product lines, creating 65 new jobs. With the expansion, BCA will be the county's largest manufacturer.
"Next year, 450,000 bikes will be built in Manning," Kosinski says.
Clarendon County's target sectors include transportation, distribution and logistics, automotive, and food processing.
Volvo's decision to build its first American factory in Berkeley County also makes the outlook for Clarendon County look bright. As production of Volvo's XC90 SUV ramps up, Kosinski sees a need for a supplier network that is near the auto plant.
"If you look at what BMW did to the Upstate, Volvo could have the same impact on Charleston. Because of that and the fact that South Carolina is a good place for industry because of its political environment, it puts Clarendon County in a great spot," says Kosinski. He expects to have some new economic development announcements in the next three months. "I think we'll see explosive automotive growth. We're aggressively marketing to Tier 2 and Tier 3 auto suppliers."
If not having to compete for workers in the tight Charleston labor market isn't enough incentive for companies to look Clarendon County's way, quality of life should be, Kosinski says. Lake Marion, the largest lake in South Carolina and one of the largest 50 lakes in the nation, provides plenty of recreational opportunities.
"We've got an 110,600-acre recreation paradise in our backyard," he said. "A lot of workers at Volvo would rather live on the lake here in Clarendon County and have a 45-minute drive to work than live in Charleston and Dorchester counties and sit in traffic for 45 minutes. We sit well within the region. We're close enough to everything but far enough away."
A 2,000-acre I-95 mega site, developed in partnership with Lee, Sumter, and Williamsburg counties has generated interest. "We've had some good looks at it. We've had some big, big projects look at the site. We haven't landed one yet," Kosinski says. "But we're confident we'll land the big one."
In addition to manufacturing, Clarendon County is getting interest from the solar industry. Last summer, Southern Current announced that it would invest about $10 million in three solar farms. In late 2016, Adger Solar announced it would invest $200 million in two solar farms. While solar doesn't generate the jobs a manufacturing plant would, it does increase the county's tax base and doesn't put pressure on the county's services such as schools and public safety.
Kosinski adds, "We need a good mix of typical manufacturing and these."