It’s amazing to think that only a month ago we all were talking about a historically strong economy and a 60-year record low unemployment. Nobody could have foreseen these past weeks of COVID-19 and then, on top of that, our area being hit by tornadoes. It is a truly unprecedented situation, and we can’t deny ripple effects felt in all our lives. My heart goes out to those impacted, and I want to sincerely thank the emergency and health care workers who are on the front lines.
The impacts of layoffs in Orangeburg County, like every county nationwide, have been painful and I want to recognize that many families are hurting. I also want to assure you Orangeburg County leaders and the Orangeburg County Development Commission (OCDC) team are committed to doing everything possible to help employers get up and running at full capacity as soon as it’s safe. I am hoping and praying that the impact of this time will be minimal in the lives of everyone.
As difficult as the past month has been, I am hopeful, as solutions are found in science and technology, that we can return to the brighter times of 2019 and continue our county, state and country’s upward economic trajectory.
Last year, Orangeburg County saw $89 million in net new manufacturing capital investment and commitment of 237 net new jobs. 24 international companies now have operations in Orangeburg County, with a highlight being the ribbon cutting on Sept. 27 for the state’s first Swedish Volvo supplier, Gnotec.
Recent months also brought expansions of some of our great existing companies: Okonite, Dempsey Wood Products, Husqvarna, Zeus, Allied Air and QMSC, which announced its U.S. operational headquarters. Construction permits for Orangeburg County hit a record high with 2,560 issued. This represented the second year in a row of record-level permitting in the county.
We also flipped the switch on the largest solar farm in the state in 2019, and we’ve earned the nickname “Solar Capital of South Carolina.” In the past three years, we’ve seen growth in the energy industry that’s exceeded $600 million. Clearly, we have positioned ourselves to answer the call of green energy for future generations.
As much as we’re impressed with new companies, seeing our existing industry succeed is perhaps our greatest achievement as a community. It was very rewarding in 2019 to see many existing companies flourish and we thank those investors.
In the face of recent events, I believe considering the prosperity we were seeing before March can offer us hope. It also provides a foundation for our future.
In fact, just as the state and the nation’s economies hit the “pause” button, three companies were set to announce plans to bring new facilities and jobs to our area. But they found it necessary to put those plans temporarily on hold until the state of emergency is over. Several other key projects are on the cusp of realization but are awaiting the green light for our economy to reopen. I am confident all these projects, and more, will be announced before the end of 2020.
It’s critical we all pull together during this time. We’ve done so much to attract new business and higher-paying jobs, and to develop infrastructure to improve economic conditions for the people of Orangeburg County. We need to continue focusing our energy and resources on sectors that will be growing in light of the new realities we face going forward.
It’s important to recognize that, while portions of our economy are down, others will grow in importance. We must be willing to use our resources wisely.
One example is the importance of bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., especially in the pharmaceutical industry. The success of companies like SI Group locally and even Nephron Pharmaceuticals in neighboring Lexington County sends a clear message to the world that Orangeburg County and South Carolina have what these companies need.
Disruption in the supply chain also is likely to bring new opportunities for Orangeburg County as America realizes it pays to be more self-reliant in vital sectors. Truly, supply lines have been crippled by tariffs, quarantines and factory closings in places like China and India.
Dependence on foreign countries for crucial medical equipment throughout the pandemic, for example, has illuminated the hazards of a hyper-globalized economy. On-shoring or reshoring companies producing critical products are the best and only solution.
Worries about a continued and prolonged disruption will assist in companies coming back to the USA and specifically the Southeast. Consequently, we must be prepared with infrastructure, product (industrial buildings) and a quality workforce that’s ready and trained in manufacturing. This will be the future of Orangeburg County moving forward and we will be ready.
We are fortunate to have a prime industrial spec building as well as a unique building site ready to go. In 2019, OCDC worked with Primmus Development on a $12 million, 200,000-square-foot spec building, paid for exclusively with private funds. We also worked with Tri-County Electric Cooperative to develop the 300-acre Tri-County Global Industrial Site, adjacent to I-26. The site has a 45-acre building pad to accommodate up to 2 million square feet of industrial space, along with its own solar farm.
We understand furloughs and layoffs are occurring, and that creates a stark and difficult new reality for many. I’m convinced, however, that the people of Orangeburg County are resilient, and we will not only prevail but the triumph will bring new opportunities.
Our team at OCDC is here for you. Our office, as an essential service, remains open. If you are an employer and need our help, please reach out. Any company needing assistance or direction, please reach out. We also have links on our website at www.OCDC.com to a wealth of state and local resources.
Remember, we are all in this together!
Gregg Robinson is executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission.
"We are proud that Orangeburg County has created a second-to-none environment that attracts businesses."
Gregg Robinson, Orangeburg County Development Commission
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