Economic growth in the Upstate has been strong over the years, and it doesn’t appear to be in danger, as long as businesses recognize and address three disruptive trends, according to John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance.
“From January to the end of May, there was $340.9 million in investment in the Upstate that created 922 jobs,” Lummus said during the GSA Business Report Power Event Thursday. “These numbers, while in line with 2018 at this same time last year, show more tempered growth than we’ve seen in recent years. As we analyze this data, we see that our region needs to adjust our economic development plans.”
The disruptive trends include a change in the size of projects coming to the Upstate, a growing demand for innovation and the Upstate’s growing role in the world market.
“Economic development success used to hinge on attracting large manufacturers, but fewer opportunities will exist over the next five years,” Lummus said. “We need to pursue middle-sized and small companies. That’s where the greatest job growth will be.”
The growing demand for innovation can be seen in the fact that in 1980, it took 25 employees to produce $1 million worth of goods. Today that job takes five employees. Lummus said tasks performed by robots are expected to increase from 10% to 25% over the next 10 years. He said manufacturers want to go where service firms and talent are available, and that’s where landing pads are useful.
“Landing pad projects are smaller market entries that don’t meet traditional incentive requirements,” he said. “These companies are often already established overseas and need quick access to small, turnkey facilities as they establish a North American presence.”
The third disruptive trend is the Upstate’s expanding role in the world market. Lummus said the Upstate is now home to 505 firms from 38 different countries.
“And we recognize the need to recruit and retain more talent to our workforce,” he said.
To address those needs, Upstate SC Alliance has launched a talent attraction initiative called Move Up. The initiative includes a new brand and website, MoveUpstateSC.com, which promotes the job opportunities and quality of life in the 10-county Upstate region.
According to S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, the momentum in South Carolina can continue and grow stronger by erasing a perceived stigma attached to technical colleges.
“Our technical college system is a huge draw for businesses to come here,” she said. “I challenge you to tell the stories of our technical schools. The students are often being recruited by companies before they even finish their program. And they’re making anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 a year, with no debt. And in three years, if they prove to be a really quality worker, they’re making six figures.”
The lieutenant governor acknowledged the challenge created by a low unemployment rate. She said by being business friendly, the state can recruit businesses that may be overlooked in other states. She said an example she likes to tell is of Workman Cycles in Horry County. She said the company was originally in New York, but when New York started looking into a bike share program and didn’t consider Workman Cycles as a supplier, the company didn’t feel appreciated or welcome. After that sleight, the owner told Evette, he thought “maybe someone else will appreciate us.” That someone else was South Carolina.
Workman Cycles brought with it a new way of looking for workers, Evette said.
“The owner wanted to find untapped sources for employees, so he reached out to the hearing impaired,” Evette said. “He also introduced me to one of his most loyal employees and best workers — a woman who had spent 20 years in a federal prison.”
We need to reach out to people who can make an impact, to people we have never reached out to before,” she said.
She also encouraged the business representatives in attendance to let her or Gov. Henry McMaster know their needs.
“Don’t think we know what your pain point is. If there is a hurdle for you, reach out to us, because we can’t know about every regulation in every department,” she said. “Let us know what works and what doesn’t.”