Forget what you’ve heard about the benefits of doing business in the state of South Carolina. While the Palmetto state has proven time and time again to be the go-to-destination for business in the southeastern U.S. with success stories like BMW, Boeing, Volvo, LG, Giti Tire and countless others over the years. It’s easy to see why, given the sizable pool of skilled labor, top-notch training programs and facilities, the most business-friendly climate in the country, and a competitive incentives program are just a few of the things that make the state attractive. Cities like Greenville, Columbia and of course Charleston have become internationally recognized as a result.
But the site of South Carolina’s future success rests in the state’s northeastern corner.
Momentum has been quietly but steadily gaining in recent years, resulting in unprecedented amount of growth and positioning the region to take its place as South Carolina’s latest success story. If you aren’t familiar with the area that includes Myrtle Beach, Florence, and Georgetown then you’ve missed a lot already.
For example, did you know that Myrtle Beach is the second fastest-growing metro in the country for the fourth straight year in 2019 according to the U.S. Census Bureau? How about that Florence County is home to Art Fields – an internationally recognized art competition – hosted annually in the city of Lake City, which was was named “Best Small Town Cultural Scene” in 2018 by USA Today, and designated one the best places to visit in May 2019 by Travel + Leisure magazine? Did you know the only international headquarters for a Fortune 1000 company in the state, Sonoco Products, Inc., is located in Hartsville, which is a two-time winner of the All American City award?
This doesn’t even factor in the assets promoting economic development, like the Inland Port Dillon – the South Carolina Port Authority’s (SCPA) newest facility, opened in 2018 – or the three advanced manufacturing centers spread throughout the region, or millions of dollars in ongoing infrastructure projects throughout the region thanks to initiatives from county and local governments as well as state allies.
It’s why the region has seen nearly $4 billion in capital investment and the creation of nearly 16,300 jobs since 2009, according to the North Eastern Strategic Alliance (NESA), a regional nonprofit economic development organization working with the nine counties in this northeastern corner of South Carolina. If those figures aren’t enough to show the region’s growth, nearly $1.83 billion in capital investment and nearly 3,700 jobs have arrived in Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg counties since 2017.
Which brings us back to population growth. The NESA region has seen a steady stream of new residents since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In total, 55,356 newcomers located in the region from 2010 – 2017, representing a 7.8 percent increase over that span. The region’s population is expected to reach 787,298 by the end of 2019, another increase of 2.7 percent.
So why are companies and people alike moving to this region of South Carolina? Why has it become so attractive?
Inland Port Dillon
As previously mentioned, in April 2019 the SCPA cut the ribbon on its latest investment: Inland Port Dillon. The most significant of infrastructure projects in the NESA region over the past several years, Inland Port Dillon seeks to meet the demand for tomorrow’s transportation solutions. Located with a 3,400-acre industrial site that fronts I-95, Inland Port Dillon gives importers and exporters in the eastern Carolinas a powerful advantage in connecting supply and demand. With the help of CSX Class-I rail, Dillon connects directly to the deep-water Port of Charleston and gives its clients the ability to control costs with maximum flexibility and minimal cost. Inland Port Dillon is strategically located at a railroad “T” with mainline access north/south and west and can service markets in the Northeastern and Midwestern sections of the country.
For exporters, the advantage offered by Inland Port Dillon is especially attractive, as the need to fill empty containers at the port for their return journey to Charleston and beyond has resulted in competitive shipping rates you won’t find anywhere else.
This past July, SCPA reported they handled more than 30,000 rail moves at Inland Port Dillon in their first full fiscal year. That’s the latest indicator that businesses are getting on board the proverbial NESA train, investing millions in distribution related ventures since the port’s opening with more announcements throughout the entire NESA region to come soon.
The first questions companies ask today center around the availability of workforce in a potential area of investment. Everyone wants to know where their workers will come from and if they will be skilled enough to handle the jobs they will be providing.
It’s no wonder this is top of mind, as unemployment rates have dropped to record lows across the country. The NESA region being no exception, with unemployment sitting at 3.4 percent according to recent figures; however, the region has an advantage as population growth is currently outpacing the rest of the U.S. (U.S. – 0.6 percent, NESA – 1.3 percent).
The region also has a unique labor pool to draw from. Because of its location, parts of the region can draw from the Charlotte, North Carolina area and others can draw from the Charleston area. Not to mention, I-95 and I-20 intersect at the heart of the region giving quick and easy access to a sizable workforce, miles outside the regions boarders. This unique location allows the region to boast a total workforce of nearly 1.7 million. This includes all adult civilian, non-institutionalized individuals within a 60-mile radius of the regions geographical center.
Training that workforce is something this region of the state takes extremely serious as well. Within the past year the region had two announcements concerning new workforce training facilities; the Continuum in Lake City and the Horry-Georgetown Advanced Manufacturing Center in Georgetown. These two state-of-the-art facilities offer vast opportunities for companies to partner with them on the growth and continuing education of their workforce.
Another unique resource in this region is the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SiMT) in Darlington County. It was the first facility of its kind in the United States. Located on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College, SiMT is an advanced manufacturing center that provides support to existing and future industries. Additionally, the region has eight universities and technical colleges to draw talent from.
Quality Real Estate at Low Prices
It has become increasingly more difficult to find a place with great logistical advantages, but with land at affordable costs.
The northeastern corner of South Carolina is one of the few places left that can offer the best of both. The region has more than 90 industrial sites and 30 industrial buildings actively being marketed.
If you need rail, this region has 42 properties that can provide direct rail service. If you need interstate access, NESA has 43 sites with interstate frontage or within five miles at prices as low as $2,000 an acre. On average the region has a very competitive average industrial land price of $17,000 per acre.
Not looking to build something new? The region is currently marketing six speculative buildings ranging in size from 50,000 sq. ft. to 300,000 sq. ft. These buildings were all built or are being built to be expandable and so new companies can build their interiors to suit their needs.