Calhoun and Bamberg might be among the smallest counties in the state but they carry a big economic punch.
Calhoun County boasts globally recognized businesses such as Starbucks, one of only a half dozen roasting plants worldwide, and Devro Inc., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of edible casings.
Agriculture has been a key component in Calhoun County’s economy as well through the years.
The county’s location between the state capital of Columbia and the Port of Charleston, as well as the ease of interstate travel, make it a competitor when attracting big business.
“Industry plays a large role in keeping taxes low in Calhoun County,” Calhoun County Administrator and Economic Development Director John McLauchlin said.
“Now that a major developer like Red Rock is investing in the Sandy Run Industrial Park with the construction of a major market speculative building, this puts Calhoun County on the cutting edge of industrial and manufacturing development,” McLauchlin said.
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Bamberg County also carries a big stick when it comes to manufacturers.
Worldwide companies as diverse as Phoenix Specialty Manufacturing, Collins Aerospace and Pegasus Home Fashions in Denmark have located manufacturing operations in the county.
In addition, Bamberg County is home to many small manufacturers in the forest products, agribusiness and other manufacturing sectors.
The counties are a testament to the importance of manufacturing within their respective borders.
Industry is a driver of the county’s economic machine and continues to be an important part of Calhoun County even through the challenges of COVID-19.
“Regionally prior to the pandemic, we were seeing a shortage in workforce,” McLauchlin said. “The pandemic has only increased the shortage since many workers are re-evaluating their work/life balance and made job changes based on that. The labor shortage continues to create a domino effect that impacts supply across the nation.”
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Luckily the industries within Calhoun County have found ways to combat the labor shortage by partnering with the local technical colleges,” McLauchlin said. “The colleges are offering apprenticeship programs, customized internal training programs and job fairs.”
McLauchlin also said the pro-business culture created in Calhoun County helped most of the county’s industries continue production during the pandemic. They were able to ramp back up quickly when other state and federal restrictions were lifted.
The Central South Carolina Alliance team remains as a resource for manufacturers in the county.
Manufacturing and industry are the tax base for the county.
About 17.4% of the county’s workforce is employed in manufacturing and some of the county’s largest employers are manufacturers.
Calhoun County is attractive due to its proximity to the Columbia market, its educated labor force and its training programs through ReadySC and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
The county boasts access to Interstate 26; fully served infrastructure with utilities, rail and transportation; small-town charm in a rural setting with big-city amenities; and a low cost of doing business with taxes and affordable labor.
The Central South Carolina Alliance helps recruit economic development into the area. The CSCA consists of Orangeburg, Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry and Richland counties, and the City of Columbia.
According to the CSCA, the county’s major employers are:
- DAK Americas LLC — plastic materials & resins manufacturing, 430
- Devro Inc. — edible casings for meat packaging, 300
- Zeus Industrial Products Inc., Gaston plant — high-performance polymer tubing for aerospace, automotive, medical and other industries, 175.
- Zeus Industrial Products LLC, Columbia plant, 150 employees
- Starbucks Roasting Plant — roasts and distributes coffee, 101.
- Alaglas Pools, fiberglass pool construction, 100.
Agriculture also remains important to Calhoun County and beyond as it is one of the largest industries in the county and the state.
The county has also identified opportunity zones that can contribute to attracting economic development opportunities to areas that need them the most.
The federal opportunity zone program provides tax incentives to encourage long-term private investment in low-income communities.
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Workforce development is also front and center in economic development as the demand for skilled labor increases.
Calhoun County had a few industrial or economic development-related announcements over the past year.
- Zeus Industrial Products hired 100 at its Gaston facility.
The jobs are being added to meet growing customer demand as the economy opens up following the coronavirus pandemic.
The Zeus jobs – primarily machine operators – pay $20 or more an hour.
While the Zeus plant has a Gaston address, it is located in the Sandy Run area of Calhoun County.
- DAK Americas LLC made an investment in the general support of its operations at the Sandy Run plant.
The investment is projected to be more than $1 million a year with total investments of $54 million for the period of 2021-25.
The investment came on the heels of the creation of 75 new jobs at the site in 2021 when DAK replaced contract employees with full-service employees
The 75 jobs have a pay scale ranging from $35,000 a year to $100,000 a year with an average pay scale of $47,000 a year.
- Red Rock Developments announced in April it broke ground on a 497,952-square-foot, cross-dock speculative industrial facility at the Sandy Run Industrial Park. It is the 761-acre park’s first speculative building.
The building is expandable to 663,836 square feet, the largest expandable spec building ever to be constructed in the market, according to company officials.
Calhoun County has provided tax incentives for the construction of the spec building. The project was formerly identified as Project Beach.
The building will be paid for entirely with private dollars. The name of the company has not been released as yet.
The 761-acre industrial park is located off U.S. Highway 21 on Interstate 26 (Exit 119).
The park has access to all utilities, Interstate 77 and Interstate 20.
Currently, the industrial park is home to DAK Americas and Zeus Industries’ 148,000-square-foot plant. About 580 acres of the park can be developed.
- St. Matthews-based Tri-County Electric Cooperative continued expansion of its broadband infrastructure to all cooperative customers.
The project will bring high-speed service to every Tri-County member in the Santee, Elloree, Vance and Eutawville areas as well as to Calhoun County.
Non-members will also have access if they are within the cooperative’s service area.
The electric cooperative is investing a total of $50 million in its broadband project throughout its coverage area.
The cooperative started the project in December 2020 and expects it to be finished by June 2022.
The cooperative has a total of 18,000 meters and is hoping about 3,000 customers will have service by the end of the year.
The project was ahead of schedule and will be completed in about two years rather than the initially projected three years.
There were no new jobs projected for either of the broadband projects.
As in past years, Calhoun County plans to honor industries by hosting an Industry Appreciation golf tournament in October.
The county’s largest employers represent a diverse array of manufacturing, education, health care and other services, helping to stabilize the impact of COVID on the county.
“Our local industries were impacted by COVID, but they felt the impact less than retail and hospitality businesses and industries did,” Southern Carolina Economic Development Alliance Vice President of Marketing Kay Maxwell said. “For our manufacturers, there was the disruption of the supply chain, especially for companies like CTG2, which was just starting up and had some issues getting their materials in during the transportation issues caused by the pandemic.”
“For Phoenix Specialty Manufacturing, they were affected by the decline of the aerospace industry during COVID. But because of their diversity in manufacturing, they were actually much busier in the medical products sector, manufacturing parts for ventilators,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said the pandemic caused bigger workforce issues for the retail and hospitality industries in counties like Beaufort and Horry, but the impact was felt by all of industries in that regard.
“In Bamberg County, it was hardest on the restaurants and retail businesses,” Maxwell said.
“All of our businesses are feeling the effects of inflation, especially higher gas rates affecting the cost of transporting raw materials and products,” she said.
The SCA also includes Hampton, Barnwell, Allendale, Colleton and Jasper counties.
According to the SCA, major employers in Bamberg County include:
- Phoenix Specialty — washers, shims and stampings, 122 employees.
- Collins Aerospace — heating nozzles, 112 employees
- Pegasus Home Fashions — home fashions, 107 employees
Industries making investment announcements or beginning operations in Bamberg County in the past year include:
- South Carolina Oak to Barrel LLC announced in September 2021 it will invest $6.8 million and create 122 jobs at the former Black Water Barrels plant at 3914 Bamberg Highway in Bamberg County. The company would manufacture barrels for bourbon, fine wines and whiskey industries.
Black Water Barrels announced in November 2019 that it was temporarily closing as part of a restructuring effort. The company never reopened.
The facility is up and operational.
The company touts itself as the only woman-owned cooperage in the state and one of the only woman-owned cooperages in the nation.
- Arnett Engineered Solutions LLC, a pump and valve manufacturer and provider, announced in August 2021 its plans to invest $2.5 million and create 19 new jobs.
The $2.5 million will be to purchase the building at CrossRhodes Industrial Park south of Bamberg on U.S. 301. The building was previously occupied by Freudenberg, which was formerly Tobul Accumulators.
- Also in Bamberg County, the former Paw Country Club and Bamberg Golf and Sports Club reopened in December as River Birch Golf Course.