Affordable homes, low utility rates, outdoor recreational opportunities and plenty of places to satisfy your palate are just a few of the reasons local leaders say Orangeburg County is a desired place to live.

Middleton and Associates Realty owner Kenneth Middleton said Orangeburg is an ideal place for those "wanting to be a part of something that is evolving."

"For these individuals, Orangeburg County for the next few years is going to be a wonderful place to live," he said. "I think there are people who want to be a part of something."

Middleton, chairman of the Orangeburg County Development Commission, said the Orangeburg area provides amenities people are searching for and "there are positive things happening in Orangeburg County right now."

"Generally people see that, but sometimes people from outside the area see it before we do," he said. "But I think that is a testament to what the future holds for Orangeburg."

According to the Palmetto Multiple Listing Service -- which includes properties in Orangeburg, Bamberg, Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Lexington, Newberry and Richland counties -- year-to-date home sales are up 12 percent from 2016.

Year-to-date average home price for the counties ($111,725) is the lowest across the state with the exception of Cherokee County.

Middleton said more and more people are seeing Orangeburg County being on the cusp of something big and have begun to act accordingly.

"The housing market has picked up in the Greater Orangeburg area this year," Middleton said. "We are seeing for the first time in a long time several new home possibilities."

Middleton said new construction is occurring in Laurel Hill and in the Cope and Cordova areas.

"The supply of new construction is just starting to begin to match demand," Middleton said. "Demand has been greater than supply."

Utility rates

Some of the lowest utility rates can be found locally, including those offered by the city-owned Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities.

"Our interaction with not only business but residential home buyers has taught us that utility costs are in their top five evaluators when making a decision on location," DPU spokesman Randy Etters said. "They want to know that the utilities are dependable, safe and reasonably priced. Our DPU team has created an environment that accomplishes all of these goals."

According to the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Providers, DPU electricity customers pay an average of $100.50 a month based on 1,000 kilowatt hours.

That is the lowest rate in comparison to utility companies in Winnsboro, Bamberg, Greer, Bennettsville and Easley.

According to DPU, its natural gas customer pays an average of $88-89 per 100 therms a month. That is below the state average of $105 a month and is the lowest in the state compared to the likes of Piedmont, Greenwood, Fountain Inn, Fort Mill, Greer, York and South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

According to the Office of Local Government's annual water and sewer rate survey, a customer's water bill within the Orangeburg city limits is $13.03 a month based on the average residential use of 5,000 gallons a month.

Only the cities of Myrtle Beach, Greenville and Cheraw had lower water rates in the state, according to the OLG 2017 survey.

The average customer's wastewater bill within the city is $21.26 a month based on the average residential use of 5,000 gallons a month. Only the cities and towns of Bishopville, Bowman, Cayce, Cheraw, Conway, Johnsville, Latta, McCall, North Myrtle Beach, North, West Columbia, Ware Shoals and Summerville have lower rates, according to the OLG survey.

Etters said the utility prides itself on keeping its rates low.

"We are the beneficiaries of a very attractive power supply contract with South Carolina Electric and Gas that allows us to pass significant savings on to our customers," Etters said.

"Our team works hard to evaluate every opportunity for savings in all utility divisions of DPU. These careful cost controls assist not only our electric division, but our natural gas, water and wastewater divisions as well."

Etters said DPU also sees the importance of keeping rates low.

"It is very important for DPU to be competitive in the utility marketplace," he said. "We have a mandate from our city council to provide the highest possible service at the lowest reasonable cost."

"We take this directive very seriously," Etters said. "Our mission is to assist in growing our community by attracting not only new business to our area, but by retaining our customer base through attractive utility pricing. This low pricing also helps us attract new families to our area that are seeking homes where the cost of living is below average."

DPU also helps to improve the quality of life for families by being attractive to industry.

"DPU has had direct contact with many site consultants and company representatives who are quite clear in their desire to receive the lowest utility pricing," Etters said. "DPU industrial sites are in direct competition with other communities who must also make their best case for why an industry should choose their site."

Dining, fitness, recreation

Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President Melinda Jackson said the county provides residents and visitors other "big opportunities with a small town feel."

"The opportunities are greater here than in adjacent counties," Jackson said. "We have so many options from our city tennis courts and water parks and rivers and lakes."

The award-winning Edisto Memorial Gardens provides residents a quiet getaway spot to enjoy nature, relax and smell the roses.

For those who like water and outdoor adventures, the Edisto River, the longest blackwater river in North America, flows through Orangeburg. Jackson touted the river as ideal for kayaking, swimming and boating.

Santee State Park and Lake Marion, the largest lake in the state, are just a half hour's drive from the City of Orangeburg.

"Santee is mostly a recreation town from boating and there are three golf course with one being on the lake," Jackson said, noting the county boasts five golf courses in total.

The Orangeburg Country Club and Hillcrest golf courses are in Orangeburg.

In addition to water bodies, the county also has two water parks -- the Orangeburg County Aquatic Center and the water park in Santee.

Jackson touted the recent development of Bowman's Yonder Field outdoor entertainment venue and drive-in movie theater as well as the Southeast Outdoor Adventure Center, an outdoor adventure center.

In addition to outdoor activities, the county's variety of restaurants can also be a draw.

Barbecue is famous, with restaurants such as Dukes, Antley's and Sweatman's being big draws for those within and outside the county.

Other locally owned restaurants include House of Pizza, Chestnut Grill, the Kuckery, Tea Thyme, Thelma's on Main and the Edisto River Creamery.

In the eastern part of the county in the Santee area, one can find Lone Star and Clark's.

"These small businesses and small mom-and-pop restaurants are evidence that entrepreneurship in Orangeburg County still thrives," Jackson said. "You don't have to be a franchise. We still value locally owned businesses we support local."

Local restaurants are combined with larger national chains such as Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, Fatz, Shoney's, Applebees and Cicis.

The county also is striving to be healthier.

A downtown Orangeburg farmers market as well as a farmers market at the Family Health Center in Orangeburg are available during the growing season for fresh fruits and vegetables.

There is also the new grant-funded walking trail at the Regional Medical Center as well as the YMCA and Gold's Gym providing fitness opportunities.

Developing the body and spirit is joined with the development of the mind.

The county boasts three colleges and three school districts, as well as private school opportunities.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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