S.C. Demonstrates Silver Touch, Economic Development Officials Sound Off

Richard Breen

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

As economic development director for the city of Spartanburg, Patty Bock doesn’t typically work on the big industrial projects that her county and regional colleagues do, but she sees it on the streets of her town nonetheless.

“Every time a large project occurs in the state, there is a trickle-down effect,” Bock says.

And South Carolina continues to rack up large projects, as evidenced by a recent honor from a national economic development magazine. Area Development’s annual Shovel Awards program honors states based on a combination of capital investment and job creation initiatives.

South Carolina was one of 16 states to receive Silver Shovel Awards. Gold Shovel Awards went to Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Mississippi.

“It’s a continued great effort on behalf of South Carolina and all the economic developers across the state,” says Josh Kay, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.

In describing South Carolina’s award-worthiness, the magazine cites “a roster of big-dollar and well-balanced projects.”

“Even as automotive giants Mercedes and Volvo work on new or expanded plants that promise significant rewards in the next few years, Michelin is adding to the auto-related excitement with plans for a tire distribution center in Spartanburg County that will add 350 jobs,” Area Development reports. “South Carolina’s top projects also showcase a growing software and technology presence, plus pharmaceuticals, adhesive materials, and engineered metals.”

The 400-job, $300 million China Jushi fiberglass project announcement in Richland County led Area Development’s list of top projects in the state for 2016. The 220-job, $600 million Teijin Ltd. carbon fiber project in Greenwood County ranked No. 2.

“We typically have some good, high-profile projects,” says Jeff McKay, executive director of the nine-county North Eastern Strategic Alliance, which is based in Florence. “It’s always good to get some notoriety.”

McKay says that when a growing company sees South Carolina land a major economic development announcement, it can sometimes get them wondering whether they should be looking at South Carolina too. Richard Blackwell, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance, says that his organization incorporates awards such as the Silver Shovel into its marketing initiatives.

“I think it’s something to be celebrated,” he says. “You want to be the best of the best.”

Area Development divides states into five population categories, with the top state in each category earning a Gold Shovel. Kentucky won gold among states with populations of 3-5 million, which was South Carolina’s category.

The Palmetto State had earned the Gold Shovel in each of the three previous years. South Carolina earned a Silver Shovel Award in 2013.

“It’s a very competitive environment,” Blackwell says. “Finishing with a silver if nothing to sneeze at.”

Area Development reports that Kentucky had “more than 300 new facility or expansion projects, with investment totaling more than $3 billion and job creation pegged at more than 16,000.” By comparison, the S.C. Department of Commerce reports that in 2016, the Palmetto State recruited more than $3.4 billion in announced capital investment, creating approximately 13,100 announced new jobs.

Bock says she has seen an uptick in historic renovation and hotel projects in Spartanburg. She points out that major industrial projects are often negotiated over months, or even years, prior to the year in which they’re announced.

“Economic development includes a lot of different business working together,” she says, mentioning that utilities are also heavily involved. “It takes a lot of work to land these projects.”

In recent weeks, South Carolina has seen major announcements from companies such as BMW (1,000 jobs, $600 million) in Spartanburg County, Samsung (950 jobs, $380 million) in Newberry County and Ruiz Food Products (705 jobs, $79 million) in Florence County.

“It’s been a tremendous year and we are only halfway through,” says Blackwell, who recently enjoyed a 100-job expansion announcement by Itron Inc. in West Union. “We want another $3 billion.”