Orangeburg County lost more people than any other county in the state during the past three years, according the U.S. Census. But no one is exactly sure why.
“It would be interesting to know who those people are,” Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President Dede Cook said. “Could it be from death, new job opportunities? Could it be from graduates that were shown as residents but have moved on?”
Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson also wonders exactly who the 1,552 individuals are who left the county between April 2010 and July 2013.
“There is no single answer,” Robinson said, citing a number of possible reasons.
The 2013 population estimates released a few weeks ago showed Orangeburg County with a population of 90,942 people, down from 92,494 in the 2010 census. It was a drop of 1.7 percent.
The three counties in The T&D Region all lost residents over the three-year period, although Calhoun County saw a recent increase. Statewide, the population grew 3.2 percent during the same period.
During the three-year period, Orangeburg County saw a natural increase of 413 people, with births outnumbering deaths.
This number was offset by domestic migration out of the county of 2,107 individuals. Municipal population census data for 2013 has not yet been compiled.
“We are growing from an industrial perspective, but we are not capturing all of the employees we are recruiting due to the proximity of neighboring counties, the livability piece and the restaurant piece,” Robinson said.
Robinson said those are at least some of the reasons industries that considered Orangeburg have chosen to locate elsewhere.
“When international clients come here, they ask ‘Is that my only downtown?’” Robinson said, referring to Orangeburg’s downtown district. Robinson notes Orangeburg has other shopping areas such as U.S. 601 and North Road that it attempts to showcase.
Statewide, the population is 4.8 million, up 3.2 percent from 4.6 million in April 2010.
Allendale lost the largest percentage of people at 5.6 percent, or 580 people.
The fastest-growing region of the state is in the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach metropolitan area,
South Carolina State University Assistant Professor of Economics Paul Rienstra-Munnicha says there is a shift in the rural way of life.
“They (rural areas) face a shrinking population because small farmers and family farms are declining,” Rienstra-Munnicha said. “Many family farms cannot survive from farm income alone but have to rely on off-farm income.
“Many families quit farming and moved to urban and suburban regions to work in non-farming industries.”
Rienstra-Munnicha says attracting companies with high-paying jobs is the key.
“As job opportunities grow, it will support both the existing amenities such as agribusiness, tourism, golf, retirement places and ... other new amenities,” Rienstra-Munnicha said.
Orangeburg County leaders say all county groups must come together as a team to ensure the county is moving in the direction of growth.
Cook said the Chamber, in partnership with the Development Commission and the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association, is working to conduct a market study and analysis in an effort to recruit small business to the county and the City of Orangeburg.
“We have to create a tool so we can show them what will come out of this market and who our shoppers are,” Cook said.
The study will seek to find out why people come to Orangeburg, what people are asking for and what people want.
The information will be shared with companies and various retail and restaurant chains to show they can be successful in Orangeburg County.
Cook said this project, though still in its infancy, holds great promise.
“I feel a movement,” she said. “I feel a true partnering. All of us have come to the same conclusion separately, but we are all on the same track.”
Orangeburg County Council is a component of the partnership. Chairman Johnnie Wright said council has done what it can to help attract people by working to improve the quality of life.
An example is the county’s support for the 1 percent capital project sales tax, which funded a number of projects over the years, including the Orangeburg County YMCA and Aquatic Park on St. Matthews Road.
“We talk to a lot of people about the positives of the county,” Wright said. “We all need to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. All of us should be proactive in this area.”
“It will take awhile,” Wright said. “It might not be at the pace you want it to go, but I feel positive about it.”
Century 21 The Moore Group Vice President Jeannine Kees said in many ways the county is a victim of the times.
“Society demands instant gratification and that sometimes overrules small-town atmosphere,” she said, noting the real estate agency has been proactive in trying to draw people to the county. The agency has conducted bus tours with area human resource professionals and held meetings to show the amenities and housing opportunities.
“Our agents are full-time agents who are involved and participating in community activities,” she said.
Kees said the agency is also working with the OCDC’s People and Places project to help market the county through videos.
Kees said the key for keeping people in the county is creating opportunities, but she said in many ways, it is about a mindset.
“Our community needs to talk about the positives and not the negatives of our community,” she said. “We can be our worst enemy. Every community has challenges and no place is perfect.”
Bamberg County’s population has decreased 557, or 3.5 percent, from 15,987 in 2010 to 15,430 in 2013.
In Bamberg County during this time period, there were 582 deaths and 526 births. About 466 people left the county.
SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance Vice President of Marketing Kay Maxwell said the decline in population is hard to understand.
“There have not been any major closures in Bamberg County during that time,” she said. “Actually you have had some job creation.”
Maxwell noted Masonite International Corp. announced it would add 200 jobs and invest $14 million in new technology over the next five years in Denmark.
Tobul Accumulator announced it is investing $5 million and adding 50 jobs to the 100-person workforce.
While the Bamberg County Hospital closed during this time period, Maxwell said she knows many of the employees have not left the county.
“It is hard to find a home up for sale,” she said, noting many have chosen to commute across county lines for employment.
But Maxwell said rural counties such as Bamberg do face a challenge in shrinking populations.
“The only way to counter that is through job creation, if you recruit industry that will keep people in rural communities,” she said. “It is a chicken and the egg process, but you have to have a good workforce. We have worked very hard to make sure we certify our workforce through the governor’s Workforce Ready initiative.”
Bamberg County Administrator Joey Preston said the county, “is working to create conditions to attract families and businesses.
“We are investing in infrastructure and upgrading our communities and working closely with local businesses to encourage job creation. Since I have been working in Bamberg, I have seen that this county council is united in their efforts to create an environment conducive to business growth.”
Calhoun County’s population dropped by 126, or .8 percent, from 15,181 in 2010 to 15,055 in July 2013.
The county saw 560 deaths and 493 births during this time period and has seen 95 people leave the county.
However, Calhoun County’s population actually increased 127 from 2012 to 2013 from 14,928 to 15,055.
Calhoun County Councilman David Summers said if it comes from Washington, he is skeptical.
“I don’t believe that,” he said of the census numbers.
“We are picking up more light hookup from South Carolina Electric and Gas and Tri-County (Electric),” he said. “How can you pick up more light hook-ups and be losing people? We do have light hookups. You don’t make those things up.”
Summers said at the very least the population has remained stable as industry has been reliable and the county’s per capita income is strong.
“I think eventually it will grow,” Summers said. “We’ve got more and more young people starting to come back. They want to raise their kids in a rural area.”
Summers said the Congaree River is attractive, as well as the county’s low taxes.
“It is not like we will pick up 5,000,” he said. “This is not Myrtle Beach.”
Calhoun County Development Commission Executive Director Pat Black said, “We will always be a rural county.”
“We are proud of what we are,” Black said, explaining that many people who live in Calhoun County like it precisely because it is rural.
“A lot of people choose the rural lifestyle,” he said.
The county is also solid economically, Black said.
“Economic growth is the indicator of our per capita income,” he said. “Our goal is to raise the per capita income of residents. We have to match jobs with the workforce and the workforce with jobs. The workforce has to be prepared when those jobs become available.”
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