Brian Fulk sees a lot of potential for Lancaster County and is looking forward to building on the considerable success the county already has seen in recent years as one of the fastest-growing areas in South Carolina.
Fulk took the reins as the county’s Economic Development Director in October, bringing with him more than three decades of international and domestic trade and business development experience. He’s relocated from Richmond, where he was principal consultant for The Fulk Group, specializing in economic development and trade finance advising.
He also had been senior vice president for business development with the Greater Richmond Partnership. Before that, he spent more than 30 years with Wells Fargo and Wachovia Bank in trade financing and business development roles in England, Brazil, and Switzerland.
Here Fulk shares his ideas and vision for Lancaster County:
Q. What made the Lancaster County Economic Development Director role an attractive opportunity for you?
Brian Fulk: My career plan was always to find an economic development leadership opportunity, preferably in a largely rural location, in order to give back to the community. Lancaster County offered the perfect opportunity. The county has so many things going for it and has already found success in attracting new corporations to the area.
Q. You have extensive international finance and trade experience as well as economic development experience in Virginia. How will that help you in your new role with Lancaster County?
Brian Fulk: I plan to use my international prospecting experience and worldwide contacts to elevate Lancaster County on the world stage as a great place to locate a new manufacturing facility or office. For example, while demand for new headquarters buildings may not be as strong in the U.S. today versus five years ago (given the work-from-home phenomenon), many overseas corporations are still likely to want a central U.S. headquarters operation with employees located on-site.
Q. What are your immediate and long-term goals for Lancaster County?
Brian Fulk: My immediate goal is to meet with all of our stakeholders and listen carefully to understand the desires and concerns of the community. Longer term, I hope to work with community leaders, the region, and with the South Carolina Department of Commerce to bring Lancaster a number of right-fitting companies to offer new and interesting employment opportunities, as well as to build a solid and diverse tax base for the county.
What is your vision for Lancaster County and what can you and your department do to fulfill that vision?
Brian Fulk: I would like to see Lancaster known worldwide as a pro-business and welcoming area for new companies, and for companies already here looking to expand. I want to do my part to improve the economic livelihood of all citizens. Good-paying jobs are key to achieving this. Ideally, I would like to see Lancaster known as an innovation hub, helping to support new technologies.
My vision also includes, importantly, providing access to various resources for start-up companies, entrepreneurs, and those wishing to export their products abroad. We want to do our part to keep and attract talented individuals by helping to provide the resources, to include working space, they need.
Q. What are the county’s strengths right now in terms of attractiveness to new and expanding industries?
Brian Fulk: Lancaster County is fortunate to have several successful industry clusters. These will continue to expand and create job opportunities in future years. Healthcare and Biomedical, Finance and Professional Services, Advanced Manufacturing (including Metalworking, Textiles and Advanced Fibers), Mining and Agricultural Solutions are thriving here now.
We’re also well-positioned to attract new industries. For example, we have seen recent interest from the Electric (or alternative energy) Vehicle space, especially those supplying the larger OEM manufacturers.
Here is a list of some of Lancaster County’s strengths as I see them today.
- First, its citizens. Lancaster is a welcoming community and almost everyone I have met shares a vision to see the county prosper and grow in a balanced way without overtaxing our infrastructure. Having nearly 100,000 county residents of all ages promoting Lancaster as a good place to live, learn, work and play is a nice, large salesforce to have.
- Highway and air service. Lancaster County is located close to major interstate highways. A company located and producing here can reach over 45% of the U.S. population within a day’s truck drive. Lancaster County also has superior air service with the local executive airfield (and nearby Air-Rail Park) and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport less than an hour away.
- Rail access. For those importing or exporting, rail access is often essential. Lancaster provides access to two major service providers, CSX and Norfolk Southern.
- Workforce and training. Unlike many rural areas, Lancaster County can easily draw employees from the Charlotte area. We have access to a talented workforce. I’ve met with local educators who are very willing to help with specialized training for new companies coming here. Of course, we’re also fortunate to have some successful existing workforce programs and supporters, including readySC™.
- Land prices and leasing costs. Those two key factors are lower here than in many areas of the country and this will continue to keep us on the radar for companies looking for a new location.
- High quality of life. Lancaster County offers access to a vast array of cultural and sports activities, and to many great eating establishments. One can golf, play tennis, ride a bike, ride a horse, or walk on a trail. Add to this some of the state’s top schools, and you have a great place to live, learn, work, and play.
Q. What do you see as the greatest economic development opportunities for the county and how do you foresee you and your department leveraging those opportunities?
Brian Fulk: There’s always room to improve. For example, I would like to see us enhance our tourism/visitor activities. We have a lot to offer in the area and we need to broadcast this fact. We have the largest commercial gold mine on the East Coast. There is soon to be a state-of-the-art whitewater center going in nearby on the Catawba River.
Also, the City of Lancaster has enormous potential as a destination. We may be lacking some basics now, but these will come as our collective visions are realized. I can imagine a day when people drive from outside the state to stay at a nice hotel, eat a world-class meal on Main Street or nearby, and stroll the downtown area for shopping and cultural entertainment. This will happen … I just want to do my part to help speed up the process.
As for our greatest challenge, we need to determine as a community how we want to grow in the future. We need to have the infrastructure for this growth. This includes adequate water and sewer capacity, as well as roads able to handle increasing traffic. It also includes having schools with space available for new students.
From my perspective, we also need more “on-site” utilities at our several industrial parks to accommodate the industrial growth we expect to attract. Supply chain and other issues now require as much as 24 months or more to bring services to our sites.
Q. How does participation in the S.C. I-77 Alliance bolster your economic development efforts and what does Lancaster County’s participation add to the whole?
Brian Fulk: Lancaster County is a member and financial supporter of both the S.C. I-77 Alliance and the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. These organizations help by marketing the region through various means, to include the organization of prospecting trips. We are stronger together, and I believe a win for one county or city is eventually a win for all.