Kershaw County in South Carolina is a thriving community “with a very large manufacturing base,” says Peggy McLean, director of economic development for the Kershaw County Economic Development Office (KCEDO). Located in the Midlands region of South Carolina near Columbia, the state’s capital, Kershaw County is rich in history and industry. According to McLean, the county has a “manufacturing attitude” and a vivacious community spirit that appeals to new businesses and residents alike.
“Our manufacturing community is diverse and we feel that is one of our strengths. Our companies manufacture chemicals, refrigerators, wheels, air filters, wood products, and various textiles including carpet fibers, medical gauze, and nonwoven materials. We also have a large distribution operation in the county. We run the gamut,” says McLean.
Manufacturing is one of the biggest employers in Kershaw County. As of 2015, manufacturing employed 3,122 people in the county, according to KCEDO figures. The county also boasts “a number of automotive suppliers and automotive-related manufacturing companies,” she continues. This is a reflection of the presence of major automotive manufacturers in the state such as Volvo, BMW and Mercedes.
Kershaw County’s population, as of 2015, is 63,256. The current unemployment rate is 5.7 percent (a vast improvement since the recent recession, which saw unemployment in Kershaw County hit 11.5 percent in 2010).
Kershaw County’s geography provides a clue to its popularity with manufacturers as the county is positioned halfway between New York and Miami. Being near the center of the state, Kershaw County has easy access to five interstate highways providing 24 hour ground access transportation to more than 80 percent of U.S. markets. The Port of Charleston (fourth busiest container port in the United States) is two hours away. Locally, the Kershaw County Airport at Woodward Field offers two runways for companies with corporate jet needs. The Columbia Metropolitan Airport, with regional connections across the U.S. is close by, as is Charlotte Douglas International Airport, for international flights.
In addition to being strategically located, Kershaw County offers plenty of inducements for companies. The state corporate tax rate is five percent (one of the lowest rates in the southeastern U.S.), there’s no sales tax on manufacturing equipment, industrial power or materials for finished products, no state property taxes or local income taxes. Kershaw County has a low unionization rate of less than one percent, and South Carolina is a right-to-work state.
“Our job is to assist companies with their relocation and expansion efforts by providing resources and information. The support companies receive from our office is a glimpse of the support they will get from our community as a whole whether it’s from a neighbor, government, or school. It’s something that can’t be measured on a spreadsheet, but it’s definitely there and provides assurance for companies when they are looking to relocate or expand,” says McLean.
Kershaw County’s rich history of manufacturing is attributed to its role in U.S. history. Camden, the county seat, was founded in 1733 and is South Carolina’s oldest inland city. The county gets its name from Joseph Kershaw, an early community leader in the area, who established the first inland trade operation in the state.
Kershaw County played a substantial part in the U.S. Revolutionary War as two battles were fought near Camden—the Battle of Camden and the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. Today, visitors can tour Historic Camden’s Revolutionary War Park, attend annual historical Revolutionary War reenactments or see over sixty historical sites in and around Camden.
During the U.S. Civil War, Camden was used as a hospital community for injured soldiers. Kershaw County contributed six generals who fought for the Confederacy. The county today contains several well-maintained antebellum-era mansions, including two designed by the renowned architect, Robert Mills, who created the Washington Monument. Many of these homes are popular tourist draws. In total, Kershaw County attracts 1.5 million tourists annually.
Following the end of the U.S. Civil War, Kershaw County became a popular winter community for wealthy families from the Northern U.S. In the twentieth century, Kershaw County began to emerge as a major manufacturing center. One of the oldest manufacturers in the county began operations as a textile plant in 1900. Currently owned by Medtronic, a firm headquartered in Ireland, the textile plant still operates today as a producer of surgical gauze and employs 179 people in Kershaw County.
Medtronic isn’t the only international manufacturer in town. McLean proudly points to other foreign-owned manufacturers, such as Haier America (a refrigerator manufacturer from China), Hengst of North America (a German-based automotive filter maker) and Oak-Mitsui (a copper foil manufacturer from Japan). “Our manufacturing community is well-represented internationally,” says McLean. “Our international presence extends from six countries including Canada, Finland, China, Germany, Ireland, and Japan.”
Another local manufacturer, INVISTA, which makes fibers, fabrics, polymers and other industrial products, can trace its Kershaw County roots to 1950. Originally established by DuPont, the facility was acquired by Koch Industries in 2004, to support INVISTA’s business growth strategy. In 2015, INVISTA announced it was expanding its Kershaw County operations by investing over $80 million in new machinery and equipment.
McLean says the DuPont/INVISTA plant exemplifies Kershaw County’s “manufacturing attitude.”
“Manufacturing serves a huge role in our economy and the life of our citizens. The DuPont plant was the largest private sector employer in the county for a long time. When you have a plant like that, which impacts so many lives, the result is a community with a manufacturing attitude,” she explains.
That attitude is further expressed by Kershaw County’s eagerness to attract new manufacturers while helping existing industries expand.
In 2015, Kershaw County industries announced over $200 million in new capital investment and the addition of 550 new jobs.
“We have a vibrant and growing economy. Last year, we had phenomenal success with our industrial growth and expect that growth to continue,” says McLean.
“We are focused on the future. Last year, our county council passed $17 million in bonds for improving our industrial sites, industrial parks and industrial buildings to support our efforts to attract new industry. And, just as importantly, we’re going to help our existing industries grow,” continues McLean.
Kershaw County is an eager participant in readySC—a South Carolina workforce training program. “readySC works with local technical colleges to get individuals prepared for new jobs in industry. Usually, the training is free to both the company involved and the individual undergoing the training,” says McLean.
Pleasant weather is another attraction of Kershaw County. “We have a very moderate climate. It gets hot in the summertime, of course, but we rarely have snow in the winter. One of the great things about Kershaw County being located in the Southeast is the ability to operate year-round. And, if you need to construct a new facility, you can construct year-round,” she adds.
Of course, great weather is also a major lure for potential new residents. Kershaw County offers year-round tennis, golf, camping, biking, hiking, water skiing, soccer, fishing and boating. The county’s Lake Wateree features 242 miles of shoreline with exceptional fishing. There are museums, concert halls and theatres in the area and the region is famous for its equine-based activities. Kershaw County features two exceptional equine facilities – the Springdale Race Course and the South Carolina Equine Park. Steeplechase racing is hugely popular, with two major events each year —the springtime Carolina Cup and the Colonial Cup in the fall.
McLean returns to Kershaw County’s community spirit as another pull. “I think we go back to that feeling of community. We are a welcoming place and we have a lot to offer when it comes to quality of life. Kershaw County offers a variety of lifestyle opportunities for its residents. Whether it’s lake living, historic or new construction, we have a wide selection of housing to choose from. Our award winning school system, recreation programs, and all around family-oriented atmosphere makes Kershaw County a great place for families to locate,” she states.
The median housing price in the county is “around $113,000,” and the cost of living low, adds McLean.
All these attributes mean the county will continue to grow at a steady pace and forecasts show a county population of 64,782 by 2020. Population growth, like everything else in Kershaw County, will be well-managed.
In addition to encouraging existing businesses to expand, Kershaw County boosters hope to attract new companies to the area. “Our office is focused on manufacturing, distribution and back office call centers. These are the backbone of the local economy,” says McLean.
Working together to ensure that this U.S. Southern county maintains a reputation for being a great place to live, work, and play, she emphasizes how government officials, business and community leaders, as well as residents all continue to work together to ensure a thriving and vibrant manufacturing hub in Kershaw County.