The South Carolina I-77 Alliance comprises the economic development leaders in five counties that have come together to jointly promote and highlight the unique business and manufacturing opportunities that exist from Charlotte to Columbia.
Each of those counties — York, Fairfield, Lancaster, Chester and Richland — also are unique, offering their own mix of attributes that make them the right fit for a growing, diverse mix of enterprises and families deciding to relocate and expand and make their lives there.
We decided to use this space to highlight each of the Alliance counties. This month, the focus is on Fairfield County, located just north of Richland County and the state capital of Columbia and an easy drive to Charlotte.
Here, we ask Ty Davenport, Director of Fairfield County Economic Development, to tell us more about the community, about what he sees now, and what opportunities he sees for growth going forward. Ty joined the county two years ago after working in private real estate development and then before that as an original employee of the Central SC Alliance, a public-private partnership based in Columbia.
What makes Fairfield County unique?
Ty Davenport: Our workforce is a great place to start. We’re a largely rural county with a population of only about 23,000; however, we have 861,000 people within a 45-minute drive time and more than 1.6 million within a 60-minute driving window. In addition, our workforce is younger and more educated than the state and national average.
Plus, we have a solid manufacturing history. In fact, 14% of Fairfield County’s workforce is employed in some form of manufacturing. Companies located in our county tell us that they enjoy the lower costs associated with a rural county but have the benefit of a large talented labor force with a track record in manufacturing.
In addition to our existing labor pool, it is easy to recruit employees from elsewhere. Low cost of living, great schools, higher education, professional sports, great weather. The list goes on.
Where do you see Fairfield County in 10 to 20 years compared to now?
Ty Davenport: I think Fairfield County is on the cusp of more dramatic growth and change in the next 20 years than we’ve seen in the past 50 or 60 years. First and foremost, I want to point out our community’s commitment to education. We’re the first county in South Carolina to have a dual degree program that empowers students to graduate from high school at the same time as they earn an associate degree from one of our state’s network of technical colleges.
This year we had 11 students do just that, and, since Midlands Technical College’s graduation was before Fairfield Central High School’s, they actually graduated from college before they graduated from high school! In fact, 25% of the school’s graduates this year earned at least one college credit and they earned a total of $13.4 million in scholarship money, which is outstanding for a high school of our size.
Some of these kids are going right to work, some are working and going to Midlands Tech, and others are going on to four-year universities, including engineering programs and honors colleges at schools across the state.
We know that most of our young adults want to stay close to home and we want to provide them the most opportunity we can for them to find good-paying jobs and careers right here. That leads me to the second big driver of change here in Fairfield County: our two new industrial sites.
The biggest is the I-77 Megasite of roughly 1,200 acres near I-77 and Highway 34 where we’re working with the Department of Commerce to attract a single employer large enough to be game-changer that will be employing people from Fairfield County and beyond. There are very few sites like this in South Carolina, or across the Southeast right now.
Our new 675-acre Class A industrial park, the Fairfield Commerce Center at I-77 and Peach Road near Exit 32, has its first tenant. Bomag is a road paving equipment manufacturer that has consolidated its operations from Illinois and Oklahoma and are making their home here. They have been very successful in acquiring talented new employees, and I think that’s a sign of more good things to come.
What national and state issues affect Fairfield County and how?
Ty Davenport: Infrastructure is important. We’re happy to see a lot of construction work now underway on our freeways to widen and generally improve them to handle growing truck and passenger traffic alike. Specifically, you can see that right now on I-77 just south of us in Columbia and on I-20 not too far away.
These are very important arteries as connectors to the major markets and distribution points our local companies serve, including Atlanta and Charleston. They also help make us a more desirable place to live right here in Fairfield County since they make commuting easier.
Tariffs also are something else we have to keep an eye on, both in the short term and long run. The issues that affect the national economy also affect us, it’s really that simple.
What challenges does Fairfield County face in terms of quality of life and economic development and how are they being addressed?
Ty Davenport: Well, we’re already very fortunate to be a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, but to really grow, we need more investment in water and sewer. That’s really our biggest challenge. We have in place what we need now and in the short term, but to really grow, that’s got to change, especially to accommodate new residential development.
Currently, we’re performing the studies necessary to build and expand our existing sewer system and we already have construction underway to increase our water supply to the point that it can carry us 30 years into the future.
What opportunities does Fairfield County have in terms of quality of life and economic development and how are they being seized?
Ty Davenport: Building out our water and sewer infrastructure will allow us to really capitalize on the opportunity we have to connect lake living, our towns in Fairfield County, and surrounding areas. Improvements in local education have been dramatic in the past few years and are poised to only get better. Providence Health is building an emergency center, which will be a big boost to local healthcare, and we have the exciting potential of our I-77 Megasite and industrial park.
All in all, it’s an exciting time for Fairfield County with great things to come for us as a place to learn, work and live.