Kershaw County: Concentrating on Tech TrainingOct 02, 2017 10:49AM ● By Makayla Gay
By Emily Stevenson
Over the past five years, Kershaw County has seen more than $243 million in new capital investment and more than 600 new jobs. And that’s not even the best news.
“The majority of those announcements have been from our existing industries, which I find to be very exciting,” says Peggy McLean, director of the Kershaw County Economic Development Office. “That shows that Kershaw County is a great place to do business. Once a company comes here, the environment exists for growth, and that’s evidenced by our new capital investment announcements.”
A major component of that growth is workforce development.
“We want to provide an environment that’s conducive to manufacturing success,” says McLean. “One of the most important things we do is work with their workforce pipeline.”
And Kershaw County is putting its money where its mouth is. The county council has allocated $12 million for a new technical college. In addition, the county has allocated funds for two years of free education at the college—any high school graduate with a C average or better is eligible to receive two years of free technical college education.
Julian Burns, chairman of the Kershaw County Council, says that the decision was made not to make Kershaw more competitive with other counties, but with other countries.
“We decided to invest in ourselves so that businesses would be willing to invest in us,” he says.
By the end of 2017, construction on a new Central Carolina Technical College building will be completed. The new facility will consolidate all of the classroom, training, and lab space onto one campus.
In addition to traditional classrooms, the new facility will also offer 3,500 square feet of open bay area, which industries can use for training. Companies can bring in their own equipment and train potential employees.
The county is also working to create a mindset shift in young students and their parents and counselors. They’re encouraging a focus on STEM education and opening up the idea that not everyone should go to a traditional four-year university.
“There are great jobs outside the college arrangement,” says Burns. “They can be addressed by high school technical education and two-year college education. There’s a whole change in culture here. That’s the hard part.”
In addition to a ready and available workforce, Kershaw County officials have also made sure interested companies have a ready and inviting home waiting for them. The county is in the middle of a plan to improve industrial sites, parks, and buildings.
“Looking at our industrial product, we saw that was an area we needed to have improvement, and that’s why we initiated this product improvement plan,” says McLean. “We are investing in those industrial places clearing land, improving entrances, improving road systems, and construction of speculative or shell buildings.”
The county recently broke ground on its first shell building, which has walls, a roof, and power, but is not fully completed. These buildings save companies time because a large part of the building is already constructed.
“For business and industries that are growing, time means money,” McLean says. “The saving of time means the saving of money on their part. They can get to making their product sooner. That’s exciting for us.”
Shell buildings also offer an adaptable location for many types of industries – and Kershaw County has plenty.
“The diversity of our industries is one of our strengths,” says McLean.
While the county does have textile plants, it’s not the textile of old—one company makes nonwoven materials, such as baby wipes and Swiffer mop wipes. Another makes carpet fibers that go into the interior of automobiles.
County officials are looking to expand the industries even further.
“We’re targeting manufacturing, engineering, technical businesses,” says Burns. “We want to get out of the old build-to-print millworker type of jobs that came to this county in the past 200 years. We’re looking for a second- and first-tier manufacturers and designers.”
Location is a big factor for many businesses. The quality of life and area amenities are a big draw, but infrastructure is also critical.
“The majority of our industries and sites are along the interstate or very near the interstate,” says McLean. “That provides easy access to goods and services and customers here in the U.S. and the world.”
The world is definitely the competition, according to McLean.
“Communities around the country and around the world, we’re all competing for the attention of companies that are growing,” she says. “That’s why we’re doing what we can do to make ourselves more attractive and better positioned to attract new industries.”