As the century turned, the northern end of South Carolina’s I-77 corridor was still seeing the shakeout of the end of textile’s domination of the regional economy.
Twenty years later, as a new decade dawns, that transformation is complete, and while advanced textile manufacturers still have a presence here, the local manufacturing base has become diverse on a global scale and a growing workforce stands ready to provide the foundation for existing players to expand and new enterprises to join in.
Just south of Charlotte, York County’s population has grown by nearly 25% in the past 10 years to about 275,000 while it draws on a labor force of more than 1.2 million people across the Charlotte region. These factors propelled the county to become a success story for job growth, ranking first in the Nation for multiple quarters, culminating in 28% growth of total employment in the past decade. Sectors driving this economic expansion are professional and business services at 66%, trade, transportation and utilities at 32% and information technologies at 30%.
“The economic development we’ve seen has been diverse and substantial and there’s room for so much more growth,” says York County Economic Development Executive Director David Swenson. “We’re very optimistic here.”
The sentiment is also felt in Chester County, just to the south. A rural setting whose population of roughly 32,000 has held steady for years, Chester County has hosted the creation of more than 4,500 jobs coupled with investment exceeding $1.4 billion in the past 15 years.
That industrial development is now being joined by residential development, offering local alternatives to workers who commute in from surrounding counties, particularly the Columbia area to the south and suburban Charlotte to the north.
That’s a significant development, says Jeff Burgess, Project Manager with Chester County Economic Development. He says two new single-family projects totaling close to 630 homes are slated to break ground in 2020, along with a 231-unit upscale apartment complex. Commercial opportunities are expected to follow.
“One of the questions we hear most often is, ‘Where will my employees live?’ This is the beginning of the answer to that question,” Burgess says.
The answer to where they’ll work is already well underway. “The addition of Giti Tire, Roseburg Forest Products and Carolina Poly have helped change our landscape here,” Burgess says. “At the same time, expansions at Boise Cascade, Jones Hamilton and UNFI, among others, is a strong indicator of the county’s attractiveness to existing companies for growth opportunities.”
Land for companies to build on in both York and Chester counties remains affordable relative to other desirable national markets. That’s helped site preparation become a passion and pursuit for multiple partners in Chester County working through the Duke Site Readiness and S.C. Department of Commerce Certified Sites programs. The latter has approved 10 sites in the county and the former has certified eight, including most recently the 724-acre Richburg Magnolia site conveniently located near I-77 on S.C. Highway 9.
Meanwhile, York County continues to see a wide variety of industrial and commerce parks and work-live opportunities spring up. The headline may be the NFL Charlotte Panthers moving to Rock Hill, yet there are additional diverse, imaginative projects underway.
They include conversion of historic textile properties, such as the Kingsley in Fort Mill, and in Rock Hill, the industrial site LegacyPark East and its 3 million square feet under roof and Knowledge Park, a strategic plan just launched to pull together a walkable, livable community of incubators and existing firms built around a knowledge economy.
York County already is known for its unusually robust recreational offerings, including riverside parks and sports venues that attract national softball and cycling events. Chester County, meanwhile, continues to offer rural living with the big city nearby.
Economic developers also have worked closely with the education community in both counties to offer residents and employers alike opportunities to together ensure a ready workforce through partnerships with local secondary schools and colleges, including York Technical College and Winthrop University.
Indeed, quality of life and economic opportunity are growing together in York and Chester counties, as stakeholders across the spectrum stand ready to welcome prospects and accommodate the needs of existing enterprises alike.