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, Chester, Lancaster, Fairfield and Richland — are unique, offering their own mix of attributes that make them the right fit for a growing, diverse mix of enterprises deciding to relocate and expand.
We decided to use this space to highlight each of the Alliance counties. This month, the focus is on Lancaster County, which sits on the North Carolina border just south of Charlotte and now, with more than 92,000 residents, is among the fastest-growing areas in South Carolina.
Here, we ask Jamie Gilbert, the county’s Economic Development Director since 2016, to share what makes Lancaster County work and what he sees in its future.
What makes Lancaster County unique?
I think Lancaster County is unique in that we now have one of the most diverse economies in the Carolinas. For over one hundred years, our economy was textile dominated. However, in 2007 when the last large textile mill closed, we made a concerted effort to build a new economy in the county. Today, our business landscape is remarkably different than how it looked just ten years ago.
Advanced manufacturing operations stretch from the northern panhandle to our southern most communities, and corporate headquarters facilities now line the commercial corridors of Indian Land. We have a tremendous collection of outstanding advanced manufacturers that have solidified of our status as a manufacturing center, including companies such as Nutramax Laboratories (nutritional supplements for animals), Fab Fours (specialty truck bumpers), Trinity Meyer (utility poles) and Cooley Group (billboard and awning materials). That said, our focus and ability to attract high growth corporate facilities has been nationally recognized with firms like Continental Tire, CompuCom Systems, Founders Federal Credit Union, Honeywell, Movement Mortgage, Red Ventures and Sharonview Federal Credit Union leading the way. These diverse business sectors – traditional manufacturing sites, corporate headquarters and financial services – are all incredibly successful in Lancaster County, and that’s great news for the county and region.
Where do you see Lancaster County in 10 to 20 years compared to now?
Continued growth and diversification of employment opportunities for our residents in terms of business sectors will be extremely important. The success of our existing industry is just the tip of the iceberg in regard to what can be achieved in Lancaster County, and it’s important for us to capitalize on what we already have accomplished. Also, it’s critically important that these opportunities be geographically dispersed. So much of the job creation in the last decade has occurred in the Indian Land area of the county, which is close to Charlotte. This is starting to change and we are stepping up our efforts to bring more quality job opportunities in communities to the south such as Lancaster, Heath Springs and Kershaw. We are working hard to ensure this happens and product development is the key.
What state issues affect Lancaster County and how?
Property taxes are a concern and have two impacts. First, the state formula for calculating property taxes for businesses initially makes us less competitive with other Southeast states. As a result, we are very aggressive with our property tax incentives for projects and to a large extent, we are able to mitigate the issue. Second, that aggressiveness leads to less property tax revenues for the school district. As a result of Act 288, residential property taxes do not generate the level of revenue for the schools like business property taxes do. While our incentives reduce the revenue received by schools, the reality is that business growth is very much tied to our ability to provide property tax incentives. The result is that our schools are able to reap the benefits of these projects but have to give up some of the standard tax revenue they would otherwise receive in order to get the monies received. The old adage that it takes money to make money is certainly applicable.
What challenges does Lancaster County face in terms of economic development and how are they being addressed?
One challenge is the loss of viable sites for business development. Our strong residential growth continues to reduce the number of potential industrial and office sites in the county and makes it more challenging to rezone properties for these uses as residential development encroaches on properties that are prime candidates for industrial or commercial rezoning.
What opportunities does Lancaster County have in economic development and how are they being seized?
Product development, updating our future land use plan and new workforce development initiatives are on the horizon. We have about 100 acres of industrial property that we’re looking to make “shovel ready” by creating pad-ready sites. This will make us more competitive for projects. Also, we’re about to embark on the updating of our future land use plan. Identification of new sites for industrial and office growth is a top priority during this process and we must ensure that’s addressed. It’s important that those areas currently designated for industrial or commercial development are preserved and not lost.
On the workforce side, we work closely with our existing industry and workforce partners at the local and state level to develop creative strategies to expand the availability and quality of labor in our community. Additionally, we have launched a county jobs website, www.lancastercountyscjobs.com, for manufacturing and office job opportunities available in the county, extensively use social media to promote job openings with our local industry, and are coordinating industry based job fairs with SC Works and Lancaster Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (LAMP) and 2-SC Corporate Alliance, the latter two of which were started by the Lancaster County Department of Economic Development.