By Greg Oliver
SENECA — A recent report on manufacturing in all 50 states in the U.S. gave South Carolina an “A” grade for manufacturing, but also grades ranging from “B” to “D” in other categories.
However, Oconee Economic Alliance executive director Richard Blackwell said the county is exceeding those marks.
“I would argue that we are seeing Oconee perform better than the remarks made about South Carolina,” Blackwell said. “The manufacturing sector and overall economy within Oconee County is strong currently.”
The 2018 Manufacturing and Logistics Report Card, released by the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research and Conexus Indiana said while South Carolina received an “A” in manufacturing, the Palmetto State earned a “C-” in logistics. The state maintained its “A” in manufacturing and global position. South Carolina improved from a “B” to “B+” in diversification, from a “C-” to a “C” in tax climate and from “F” to “D-” in human capital.
South Carolina fell from a “C” to a “C-” in its productivity and innovation grade, but in addition to maintaining its grade of “A” in manufacturing and global position, the state also maintained a “C” in benefits costs.
But Blackwell said the facts prove Oconee County is doing quite nicely, pointing out that the unemployment rate in the county is at 2.7 percent, the lowest it has been since April 1998, and that 1,591 new jobs have been announced in the Golden Corner since 2012. He also said the county has had $501,376,354 in new taxable capital investment and has also seen the number of residents employed rise from 28,762 to 33,381 since Jan. 1, 2012. That represents an increase of 4,619 Oconee residents who have become employed as of May of this year.
“In addition to those stats, we have seen the diversification of our economy continue as not only our manufacturing base is adding different jobs and processes, but we are now seeing a stronger retail sector take root in our community,” Blackwell said. “We expect to see more of this, and with job growth and retail, then we will begin to see housing follow.”
Blackwell also said Oconee County’s tax climate is favorable, as the Golden Corner has one of the lowest tax structures in South Carolina. He added that human capital is improving, as the poverty rate has declined from 19.1 percent in 2012 to 14.6 in 2016 and that Oconee County is the 15th fastest growing community in population from 2016-17 and 16th fastest from 2010-17. Among Upstate economies, Blackwell said, Oconee County is the fourth fastest growing community behind Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson from 2010-17.
Because of its location on the Interstate 85 corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., just outside Greenville and near Clemson University, Blackwell said the location provides some key advantages to the community through low business costs that come with having the third lowest tax burden in South Carolina and most corporate reports that indicate South Carolina is ninth lowest in the nation for business costs in general. He said the county also has the logistical advantage of being the ‘bull’s eye’ between Atlanta and Charlotte on the I-85 corridor and within 60 miles of both the South Carolina Inland Port and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.
“The transportation network is here to make an impact on the global market,” Blackwell said.
The Oconee economic director said the county has a quality “ready to work” labor shed, with more than 632,000 people from 11 counties “and great schools in place from primary to higher education.”
“The talent needed for success is here,” he said. “We have apprenticeship models in place in our high schools and a new technical college campus coming online focused solely on manufacturing needs within an industrial park setting.”
Other economic assets the county has to offer include overall low energy costs combined with the technology network in place for 21st-century business needs.
“Overall, there are lots of positives related to a discussion on Oconee’s economy,” Blackwell said. “We have progressive incentives to match our wonderful quality of life. At the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you will find our growing community with an abundance of outdoor recreation to go along with a diverse local economy thanks to more than 60 industries and more than 1,500 small businesses.”
State Sen. Thomas Alexander of Walhalla also feels Oconee County is “doing great” economically.
“The fact that manufacturing jobs are continuing to come and expand here in Oconee County, to me, speaks of the confidence the manufacturing community has with the success of their operations here,” Alexander said. “They’re obviously pleased with the employees, quality of work and competitive environment. With the expansion of Tri-County Tech, through its Oconee County campus, even greater strides are being made to ensure we have programs in place to provide training opportunities for our citizens and for the manufacturing community.
“We have a great business climate here, and that’s the reason we’re seeing jobs created and unemployment the lowest it’s been in decades.”
The state senator said while efforts will continue to be made “to get A’s all the way across,” he feels Oconee County is blessed economically.
“I’m pleased with the economic team here and the work that is being done at the county level and their partnership with the economic team at the state level,” Alexander said.
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