How SC is working to ensure rural counties play a role in economic development surge

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 6:59 PM EDT
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MANNING, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is in the midst of an economic development boon, as companies vow to spend billions of dollars in capital investment and create thousands of new jobs.

For South Carolina as a whole to thrive, state leaders believe rural counties need to be part of the picture.

“Rural counties have to be, and the whole state needs to be involved,” Gov. Henry McMaster said.

McMaster took part in a shovel ceremony last week at Latitude Corp.’s future large metal components manufacturing facility in Clarendon County.

In what is now an empty, 50,000-square-foot building in a Manning industrial park will eventually become a $29 million workplace for 200 employees.

“I’ve been the county council chairman for 23 years, so it’s been certainly the largest [jobs] announcement since I’ve been here and then I understand even before that,” Clarendon County Council Chair Dwight Stewart said.

When the Wisconsin-based Latitude Corp. was deciding where to expand, a program spearheaded by the state’s technical college system sold them.

“The readySC program, which recruits and trains workers, convinced us that South Carolina was the right state for our business investment,” Latitude Corp. President Tom Verbos said.

That program is one tool South Carolina has to ensure rural counties can play a role in the state’s recent economic development surge.

Clarendon County is classified as a Tier III county by the South Carolina Department of Revenue, which designates all 46 counties within four tiers, based on their unemployment rates and per capita income.

Tier III and IV counties have weaker economies and are typically in more rural areas, while Tier I counties include the state’s population hubs in Greenville, Charleston, and Richland counties.

Companies that relocate to South Carolina can receive tax credits based on how many jobs they create. In Tier I and II counties, they can get $1,500 and $2,750 per each new full-time job, respectively. In Tier III and IV counties, they can receive substantially more — $20,250 and $25,000 per job, respectively.

Incentive grants from the state can be larger in these counties, too.

“I think the incentives can be important in some cases,” South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Harry Lightsey said. “But the site itself, whether it’s ready to be developed very quickly or not, whether they’re looking specifically for a building, or what sized building they’re looking for, closeness to highway, closeness to railroads, utilities — these are all factors that come into consideration.”

Lightsey — whose department heads up efforts to attract new employers to South Carolina — points to two key areas where the state has targeted federal dollars recently: expanding broadband connectivity and strengthening rural water and sewer infrastructure.

He said those are also two areas where South Carolina can still do more to attract rural development.

“Those are all things that lay a strong predicate for economic development and growth,” he said.

The secretary said the state has also worked with rural counties through various initiatives to prepare them for economic growth.

“We’ve had a tremendous success in the last five years,” he said.

In that time, the Department of Commerce reports the number of jobs in Tier III and IV counties has increased by more than 30%.

In the last two years, more than $2.1 billion in capital investment and nearly 6,600 jobs have been announced in these areas.

Those numbers don’t include this year’s announcements, like Latitude Corp.’s in Clarendon County, where the governor presented a plaque during last week’s ceremony to make their move to South Carolina official.

“It says, ‘While I breathe, I hope,’” McMaster told Verbos as he handed over the plaque. “And we’re breathing and hoping for more and more, and we know it’s going to happen, and we welcome you and we thank you.”

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