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Eight Economic Successes for 2018

December 11, 2018
South Carolina’s 10-county Upstate is wrapping up a red-letter year.
In 2018, our region has benefited from passage of business-friendly legislation, announcements of significant business investment from both new and existing industries, and continued growth of international relationships.

Next year looks every bit as bright, as #TeamUpstate’s collaborative efforts to build momentum and create sustainable economic growth continue.


1. Setting an Example on a Global Stage

The Upstate is doing a number of things right in its pursuit of sustainable economic growth, and national and international onlookers are taking notice. Fifteen years ago, Harvard Business Review coined our region “world-class manufacturers for the global economy,” and that designation has stood the test of time.

This year, the Brookings Institution noted the Upstate as a model of automotive cluster development, citing the advanced training and industry partnerships available at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR).

The non-profit public policy organization also noted that our state’s investment in BMW in the 1990s kicked off a regional economic boom, growing into more than 200 businesses within that industry in our 10-county footprint alone.

In a June podcast, Nathan Hager of Bloomberg Radio’s “Politics, Policy, Power and Law” cited Greenville as “one Southern city [that] could provide a blueprint for the rest of the region to follow in transforming the Southern economy from industry to innovation.”

Bloomberg news Federal Reserve reporter Craig Torres shared that data analysis piqued the outlet’s curiosity about the Upstate city, which become the focus of a Bloomberg piece called “The New Startup South.”

His piece cites the successes of startups in the life science and technology space, such as Zylö Therapeutics, Condrey Corporation, and Kiyatec, as well as availability of capital through resources like VentureSouth.


2. Charleston Harbor Deepening Boosts Upstate

The Upstate’s economy is inextricably linked with the Port of Charleston, which continued its growth in 2018 through funding for harbor deepening and increased activity.

On any given day, vessels carry more than $150 million of cargo into our state’s channels, half of which comes to the Upstate. Charleston’s harbors support one out of every eight jobs in our region, bringing Upstate families $5.8 billion in labor income annually.

Knowing this, it’s clear that the $49 million in funding allocated this year to deepen the harbor is a sizable win for our economy. In anticipating of larger vessels on the horizon and their impacts on movement of goods for the entire nation, the state has poured $300 million into the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project since 2010.With this federal allocation, the economic engine of the harbor can continue to generate jobs, revenue and prosperity for our region and the state as a whole.


3. Expanding South Carolina’s Workforce via Expungement

South Carolina’s unemployment rate hovers around 4 percent, and the Upstate’s is even lower. To address our region’s competitive labor market, the South Carolina State Legislature passed H. 3209, which expands our workforce by expunging certain non-violent felony convictions for those who have served their sentences. This bill puts more workers in jobs and helps employers find qualified labor; expungement also allows those already employed to advance without a criminal record, opening up lower-level positions for less experienced workers. H. 3209 is a strong step to combat workforce shortages and reduce obstacles to entry for worthy applicants, promoting economic mobility for unemployed and underemployed citizens. Our thanks to the Upstate Chamber Coalition and the region’s legislators for their leadership on this statewide issue.


4. Increasing Exports: An Upstate Trend

The South Carolina Ports Authority’s Inland Port Greer, located in Spartanburg County, saw a notable increase in its exports last year, indicative of the Upstate business community’s increasing ventures into export activities.

Spartanburg-based BMW Manufacturing Co. remains the nation’s largest automotive exporter, with an estimated $8.6 billion of exports last year alone.

According to the S.C. Department of Commerce, South Carolina’s export sales grew last year, with more than $32 billion in exports expected in 2018. Another banner year would represent a ninth consecutive year of export sales growth for South Carolina, and with the Inland Port right here in the Upstate, our region accounts for a significant portion of that activity.

Last year, exports accounted for 17% of the Upstate’s gross regional product, a number markedly higher than the state’s or the nation’s. Export activities present great opportunity for companies to increase revenue and grow. Many wonder, though: How does a company begin to sell its products overseas? What resources can guide their exploration, business development and complex international logistics?

To help chart the process and players, the Upstate SC Alliance has unveiled a “Roadmap to Exporting Success.” Hard copies and electronic versions of Export Success Roadmaps are available for interested companies or for business service providers to share with clients.

International connections within the Upstate go both ways, enhance our region’s economy and enriching our community. From investment by foreign-owned firms to migration of international people, 35 countries are represented in the Upstate – a region where business moves.


5. Workforce Development Initiatives Abound

It’s no secret that companies in the Upstate and beyond are in a fierce competition for the brightest talent. How a region responds to these challenges is increasing in its importance, and we’re proud to the region has a number of new and continuing initiatives to connect today’s students with tomorrow’s careers. Some highlights:

  • Funded by a Duke Energy grant, a partnership between Cherokee County schools, adult education programs and Spartanburg Community College provides students 65 hours of training through the Operation Workforce Training program. The program partners with local employers to ensure that the curriculum is relevant to Upstate jobs, providing students the skills they need to advance in the workforce.
  • The Laurens County Development Corporation introduced “Laurens County: A Higher Opportunity,” its answer to the need for dynamic, technical and challenging workforce preparation for the region’s middle- and high-school students.
  • Greenville County Schools and the Greenville County Chamber of Commerce introduced LaunchGVL, an internship program designed to enhance high-school students’ educations and fully prepare them for careers in information technology, engineering systems, health sciences and more.
  • SC Codes, a state-funded program providing free access to code education for all residents, launched statewide this year under the Department of Commerce after two years as a pilot project under the Innovation Challenge grant with BMW and the Greenville County Public Library System. The SC Codes platform, which uses proprietary technology created by leadership of the former Greenville-based Iron Yard Academy, connects students with industry mentors and provides pathways for continuing education and employment in technology-related fields.


6. Small Business and Start-Up Support

The Upstate has a thriving culture of collaboration and entrepreneurship; our region is focused on providing the resources necessary to grow the small businesses in our midst.

Twelve of South Carolina’s fastest-growing small businesses call the Upstate home. It’s no surprise, then that Greenville was ranked number 21 on Verizon’s Top 50 Small Cities for Small Businesses list, reflecting a mix of favorable commute times, accessible SBA loans and business-friendly tax incentives, among other factors.


7. Making Room for Growth: Speculative Building

To attract major employers and set the stage for long-term economic stability, making room for prospective companies to put roots in the Upstate is critical. Land and building costs and supply play a tremendous role in determining where a company elects to place its facilities. To that end, our region had several public-private partnerships endeavor to make room for growth.

A speculative, or “spec,” building is a property constructed without a specific buyer identified beforehand; having such inventory available allows an area to attract businesses more readily. Spec buildings are vital economic development assets that provide a smooth, time-efficient process for prospective companies. A few Upstate examples:

The Cherokee County Development Board, Santee Cooper and Broad River Electric Cooperative partnered to open a new spec building within the county’s Upstate Corporate Park this year. The expandable facility could accommodate companies requiring space up to 240,000 square feet.

Last April, the Oconee County Economic Alliance received $3 million from Santee Cooper to develop a speculative (spec) building within its Golden Corner Commerce Park near I-85.

In May, Union County and Lockhart Power Company announced they had joined forces to break ground on a 100,000 sq. ft. speculative building.


8. National Names Making Notable Investments in the Upstate

A number of recognized names have chosen to invest in our region this year, taking our business-friendly environment into account. Each spring, the Upstate SC Alliance publishes a comprehensive list of business announcements, though in the spirit of reflection we’re calling out some key investments:


TOPICS: International, Advocacy, Existing Industry, Global Competitiveness, Manufacturing, Business Recruitment, Celebrations, Materials, Skilled Workforce, Education, Bioscience, Automotive, Colleges & Universities