The Economic Development Partnership is a public-private, non-profit organization in South Carolina. Its purpose is to promote the communities of Aiken, Edgefield, Saluda and McCormick to new businesses while serving the needs of existing businesses in the area.
The Economic Development Partnership represents four counties on the western side of the state of South Carolina. “We’re in charge with bringing in new capital investment and job opportunities in manufacturing either through recruiting new companies into our region or fostering expansions with the existing industry that we already have,” says Economic Development Partnership President and Chief Executive Officer Will Williams.
“In the early eighties, economic development in South Carolina was done a whole lot differently than it is now,” says Williams. “In Aiken County, we had both the City of Aiken and City of North Augusta each trying to do its own thing – competing – and it was sort of a challenging situation. The state organization at that time was called the South Carolina Development Board – now the Department of Commerce. So, they said that they would only deal with one entity for Aiken County,” he explains.
“In 1984, the Economic Development Partnership was formed as a public-private organization representing Aiken County for economic development,” he says. “Then, in 1988, Edgefield County – a smaller county which is contiguous to Aiken County – decided to be a part of this group. We existed that way, with two counties, until 2014, when Saluda County decided to join forces with us to work collaboratively together. And this past July, McCormick County has also joined our organization,” says Williams.
“Over time, we have gone from a one-county to two-county, to now four-county organization,” he says. “Regionalism is very prevalent in economic development; we’re kind of a hybrid organization, whereas, both in Aiken and Edgefield, we function not only as the regional organization but also as the day-to-day organization that handles everything. In the other two counties – Saluda and McCormick – they have local developers, and we assist them with marketing and product development as well as other development issues,” Williams shares.
“When looking at our region, companies don’t really see county lines. They just want to know that they have a good location where they can do business and that they’re able to find the workforce that they need,” he states.
The Economic Development Partnership Board of Directors has members who are appointed by the councils of the counties it represents, but there is a prohibition that elected officials from those counties can’t be on the board. There are twenty-three board members, nine of whom are appointed members from each represented county council, while the remaining members are from the public sector. “This allows us some freedom. It allows us to operate regionally, and it also allows us to present an area rather than one specific county,” says Williams.
And the Economic Development Partnership’s region certainly has lots to offer. “It’s a central location to many different things,” he says. “We’re two and a half hours from major metropolitan areas like Atlanta and Charlotte, as well as both ports of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. One of our counties is along the interstate 20, and the others are near interstate 20,” says Williams. “This provides companies with opportunities, without needing to be located in the larger metropolitan areas.”
Over time, economic development has evolved. “It has gone from taking a prospective company to a field and saying, ‘imagine your facility here,’ to today, we need to have defined industrial parks that are shovel-ready and that have speculative buildings,” Williams declares. “So, as time has progressed, we have identified locations in those counties where industry can go. We have done the necessary engineering due diligence and either own the property or have had the property under control either with an option or a right of first refusal.”
The Economic Development Partnership is very proud of its accomplishments. “Every year, we have goals of a certain level of capital investment and job creation in the region, and we (this region) are ranked in the top twenty out of forty-six counties in the state of South Carolina for our capital investment and job creation efforts,” he notes.
“Over the past thirty-three years, this organization has helped facilitate over ten billion dollars in new capital investment and about 30,000 new jobs,” Williams states.
One of the factors that Economic Development Partnership credits for its success is the professionalism of its staff. “Also, the fact that the communities that we represent work very closely and strongly with us to execute our mission,” he says.
“We take the lead that our board establishes, and we then meet with the counties that we represent to establish what their goals and objectives are,” says Williams. “We’re their sales and marketing organizations for new jobs and capital investment, so each county has certain metrics they would like to see, based on the size of their county and what assets they have. So, we match up and work with each of those four counties,” he explains.
“Because we are independent of government, sometimes we are able to make things move along at a faster pace than it would otherwise be when working with the traditional governmental procedures,” he explains. “Using an American football analogy, our organization is like offensive linemen; we’re in the trenches; we’re doing the work; we’re opening holes, protecting the quarterback, allowing the leaders (elected officials) of our counties to score the touchdown. We’re faceless, but everyone knows who we are.”
The Economic Development Partnership’s marketing game plan consists of both social media and traditional advertising, with a strategic target audience in mind. “We’re not advertising to the people who already live here; we’re targeting companies that are located elsewhere,” says Williams. “We’ve used all forms of marketing. As a matter of fact, we even do a lot of face-to-face interaction at trade shows or by calling on companies and site selection consultants. We use a ‘shotgun approach’ before going at it surgically.”
The Economic Development Partnership plans to continue highlighting all that the region has to offer. “In the next ten years, we’ll still be executing the same mission that we’ve been doing for the last thirty-three years,” he says. “We’ll be trying to garner more capital investment and job opportunities for the citizens of our region. But we also want to help other allies in our region in demonstrating that our communities, even though small in comparison to other areas, are great places to live, work and raise families,” states Williams.
“Our region’s population growth has been small, but we’re focused and working with our communities on changing that. We’re focused on workforce development – making sure that there is an available workforce. This is the most critical component in economic development. And we’re working with our educational partners to improve that.”
There are benefits for companies that choose to put down roots in the region. “Each county has property tax incentives and other discretionary items that they can offer, depending on the scope of the project and what the needs are,” Williams says. “We have tried, over the years, to position our industrial parks where all infrastructure is in place. All a company has to do is put a shovel in the ground, construct the facility, and twelve months later, they can be operational.”
As the region it represents keeps growing and developing, there is no doubt that the Economic Development Partnership’s future is bright as football stadium floodlights.