By Michael D. White, author and freelance writer
Like an arrowhead pointing the way into the nation’s interior, South Carolina is making massive inroads in establishing itself as one of the nation’s fastest-growing centers for business and innovation.
Over the past decade, the state has proven to be a magnet for business boasting a game-changing collaborative that covers all the bases – a strong network of interstate highways and rail connections; an up-to-date infrastructure; and quality of life and business assets that are landing an increasing number of businesses from far and wide.
In 2019, the Palmetto State’s 46 counties generated $213.45 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with it being ranked by industry experts to be the fourth-best state business climate in the U.S. and the No. 1 state in the nation for economic development based on a pool of attractive quantifiable enticements that include business-friendly tax policies, numerous discretionary incentives such as grants and job development credits, and an educated, highly trained and ready workforce.
For example, Swedish carmaker Volvo recently said it will make a new premium Polestar model SUV in Charleston County.
The Swedish automaker is investing $118 million for the production of the Polestar 3 at its South Carolina plant. The vehicle is expected to go into production in 2022. It will have the same platform as the next-generation Volvo XC90, which also will be produced at the plant.
In Dorchester County, retail giant Walmart has said it will invest $220 million, in a new three-million-square-foot distribution center—the culmination of an effort supported by state, county and local officials that will create 1,000 local full-time jobs when the facility is completed in mid-2022.
Key to South Carolina’s continuing surge in business is its network of critical strategic economic development partnerships.
One such partnership is The South Carolina Fraunhofer USA Alliance (SCFUSA), a collaborative effort between the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, the South Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Fraunhofer USA network.
The Alliance was created to advance cooperative applied research across the state of South Carolina with between the state’s world-class research institutions such as the University of South Carolina and Clemson and the SCFUSA.
According to Suzanne Dickerson, director of the South Carolina Fraunhofer USA Alliance, “Examples of the research work we cultivate focuses on artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0, machine learning, wearables, and other advanced digital technologies.”
That focus “gives the state a competitive edge in advancing applied research and increasing the competitiveness of South Carolina-based businesses of all sizes,” says Adrianne Beasley, director of strategy and communication at the SC Council on Competitiveness.
Drilling deeper into the well of potential, the SC Council on Competitiveness has identified several industry sectors primarily aerospace, technology, and logistics that have the enhanced potential to benefit greatly from establishing South Carolina as a base of operations.
With an economic impact of more than $29 billion on its economy, the state’s aerospace sector currently accounts for 9.1 percent of the total U.S. market share for the export sales of aircraft, spacecraft, and related manufactures with South Carolina serving as home to more than 400 private aerospace firms.
In 2019, the state was ranked as the nation’s No. 3 exporter of commercial and military aircraft, spacecraft, and parts.
The industry took off in 2009, when Boeing selected North Charleston for its final assembly and delivery facility and gained significant altitude in March 2021 when the giant aircraft maker moved all of its 787 Dreamliner production and delivery activities from Everett, Washington, to its 141-acre North Charleston facility.
“When Boeing wanted to move here, one of the things that South Carolina had helped support with was the training that they would be able to provide with a program they designed in partnership with the South Carolina Technical College System,” says SCAerospace Director, Stephen Astemborski.
The driving force behind the success of this sector, says Astemborski, is the state’s 136,000, highly-skilled aerospace employees, energized by a collaborative aerospace education and training strategy with more than 35 schools including 16 technical colleges and the aerospace degree programs at Clemson University and the University of South Carolina.
South Carolina, while seen for generations as a site for producing textiles, is looking to expand outside the box by positioning itself as an attractive locus for companies involved in high-tech development and manufacturing.
From plastics and optics to photonics and composite materials, the state now supplies companies around the world with the items needed to make some of the industry’s most complex products.
Innovative polymer and advanced composites research facilities and an exceptional workforce allow the state to support an increasingly significant cluster of advanced materials companies with amazing results in 2020, alone, the state exported $1.3 billion in plastics to end-users around the world.
“Collaboration is in our DNA, particularly with the University of South Carolina, Clemson, and the College of Charleston,” says SC Technology and CyberSecurity Director, Kim Christ.
“We’re not going to compete with Silicon Valley,” she says. “Honestly, we don’t really need to because we’re about nurturing our startups and using the resources we have to attract venture capital and create the incubators and accelerators you’d find in a robust environment.”
Open to the world through the Port of Charleston, it’s bulk cargo/auto-export facilities at the Port of Georgetown, and several international airports, South Carolina attracted $1.8 billion in capital investments in its transportation, distribution, and logistics (TDL) sector from 2011-2020.
The state has 2,300 miles of rail lines served by the Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads, that move 70 million tons of freight annually, while more than 41,000 miles of state-maintained highways connect the Palmetto State with customers in the North, South, East and West.
Seven major airports are seeded at strategic points across the state with several—Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, for example— maintaining increasingly active cargo-handling facilities.
Located near Greer in upstate South Carolina, the airport boasts a 110,000-square-foot cargo facility on a 17-acre site. Opened in 2019, the $33 million, 17-acre cargo terminal can accommodate three Boeing 747-800 freighters at the same time. The facility has roughly tripled the airport’s previous cargo capacity.
Also located in South Carolina’s northwest region is Inland Port Greer, a unique, rail-served inland port facility that extends the reach of the Port of Charleston, not only some 212 miles inland but to customers located within a 500-mile radius of the facility, which operates seven days a week and handled 140,000 rail moves in the fiscal year that ended in June 2020.
In April 2021, a $28 million expansion to the container terminal was unveiled.
A second similar facility, Inland Port Dillon, opened in April 2018 on I-95 near the South Carolina/North Carolina border to provide direct CSX rail access to the Port of Charleston.
• Oconee County: The Oconee Economic Alliance (OEA) is a public-private nonprofit that focuses on increasing per capita income, diversifying the local tax base and generating awareness of Oconee County as a business location.
This year alone, in fact, the OEA has had a banner year in 2021 with the County being considered for more than 50 projects.
Ideally located on Interstate 85 between Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina, businesses in the Oconee County have ready access to a trio of international airports that are located within 130 miles, as well as a pair of Class 1 railroads—the Norfolk Southern and the CSX— and the Port of Charleston.
Another plus in Oconee County’s favor is its relationship with nearby educational institutions like Clemson University offering programs well-suited to fostering the skill requirements demanded by a growing number of industries.
That relationship “is absolutely critical to our economic development strategy,” says Annie Caggiano, president of the Oconee Economic Alliance. “Without an educated and well-trained population, we wouldn’t have the most important element on hand to recruit businesses here.”
While the Alliance welcomes all project types, “We feel that we are particularly suited for small- to medium-sized companies, specifically targeting those within the advanced manufacturing, plastic injection molding, metal fabrication, and automotive industries,” she adds. “The workforce in Oconee County is particularly suited to meet the skill requirements for those industries.”
“Another advantage,” says Caggiano, “is making sure that we’re out there actively marketing our advantages to the site consultants that we work with. We have padded sites with all utilities on-site and underground ready to go and that saves companies, anywhere from 90 to 180 days in getting their projects up and running. That’s one of our biggest marketing tools right now.”
Recently, the BASF Corporation, the environmental and process catalyst supplier, said it would expand operations at its specialty chemical catalyst manufacturing facility in Oconee County.
The expansion is slated for completion by mid-2022.
• Horry County: The Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation is tasked with attracting business and growing the economy for the entire county.
“The main objective,” says Sandy Davis, the agency’s president, and CEO, “is to diversify our local economy by recruiting our target areas such as advanced manufacturing, aviation and healthcare. Our strategy is to advertise our skilled workforce in the target areas, low cost of living, friendly business area, low utility rates, ease of permitting and a great place to live.”
Home to the Myrtle Beach International Airport and two local airports, along with access to Interstate 95, the recently approved Interstate 73, when completed, will connect Myrtle Beach with Michigan and all points in between.
“Everyone is familiar with Myrtle Beach as a destination, but many are not familiar with the business opportunities in the area,” says Davis. “The strength is low business costs, the business climate, and great higher education at Coastal Carolina University, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, Miller-Motte Tech and Webster University.”
• Newberry County: Newberry County hooked a big fish in 2018 when Korean appliance manufacturer Samsung, a global giant, began operations at a $380 million plant formerly operated by Caterpillar.
The Samsung project was the biggest economic development endeavor in the history of the County.
The plant produces washing machines and other appliances for the North American market and currently employs more than 500 people.
Little more than a year ago, Duke Energy selected Newberry County for participation in its 2020 Site Readiness Program to enhance the readiness of the sites for business and industrial development.
“Making steady economic progress as a small county is difficult,” said Rick Farmer, Director, Newberry County Economic Development. The County’s growth strategy, he said, “is to leverage mutually beneficial partnerships wherever we can, so we can compete above our weight class for great economic development projects.”
One victory after another…after another…after another. Questions asked, and answered, every day in the Palmetto State.
Bio: Michael D. White is a published author with four non-fiction books and well more than 1,700 by-lined articles on international transportation and trade to his credit.
During his 35 year career as a journalist, White has served in positions from contributor and reporter to managing editor for a number of publications including Global Trade Magazine, the Los Angeles Daily Commercial News, Pacific Shipper, the Los Angeles Business Journal, International Business Magazine, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Los Angeles Daily News, Pacific Traffic Magazine, and World Trade Magazine.
He has also served as editor of the CalTrade Report and Pacific Coast Trade websites, North America Public and Media Relations Manager for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, and as a consultant to Pace University’s World Trade Institute and the Austrian Trade Commission.
A veteran of the United States Coast Guard, White has traveled in both Japan and China, and earned a degree in journalism from California State University and a Certificate in International Business from the Japanese Ministry of Trade & Industry’s International Institute for Studies & Training in Tokyo.