In the past few years, the signs of economic development have been plain to see in Columbia. A good deal of construction has been going on with numerous apartment buildings and the large Mark Anthony Brewing facility that just recently brought more than 300 jobs to the county. What many may not be aware of, however, is the economic development that has been going on in the Newberry and Orangeburg areas.
Newberry has shown significant growth in the past few years after Samsung opened a new plant in 2017. This was a $380 million investment that created more than 1,000 jobs. The facility has since expanded, adding even more jobs and economic vitality to Newberry; more than $500 million has been invested, supporting 2,000 jobs. Rick Farmer, director of Newberry County Economic Development, says, “The Samsung deal was time sensitive and fell into place with the leaving of Caterpillar. It wasn’t easy, however, and an effective team consisting of local, state, and private entities came together to recruit them.” Since that time, a supplier to Samsung, KRA, has opened a plant with an initial investment of $11.5 million, which has now been tripled, greatly expanding its facility and workforce. Two other Samsung suppliers have come to Newberry as well, including Daeyoung Electronics, a $51 million investment that will create at least 224 new jobs.
Since 2015, Newberry has seen 10 new companies locate there and 11 expansions, which represent close to $600 million in investment. Until Samsung, Newberry had seen little economic growth and no new housing developments since the 1990s. Currently, five new subdivisions with an estimated 500 homes will be constructed in the near future.
The Newberry economic development team has strategically positioned themselves for growth by having space available. The Mid-Carolina Commerce Park is one example. In 2006, city and county leaders decided to be proactive in pursuing economic development and borrowed $6 million through bonds to create the park. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t the best given that the Great Recession hit about the time the park was completed with a new spec building. It stayed unoccupied until 2016. Serendipitously, however, this spec building led to winning the Samsung deal. Next door to the Caterpillar plant that Samsung was considering was a 50,000-square-foot building used by another unrelated business that manufactured cigarette paper. Samsung needed both. The state, the county, and the South Carolina power team made it happen — and relocated the company to the spec building in Mid-Carolina Commerce Park, paving the way for Samsung to come to the Prosperity community.
Rick Farmer went to see the plant manager and asked if he could buy his building. The manager thought he was kidding and laughed but then realized he was serious. Eventually, Rick and the economic development team convinced him and the board of directors on the idea of moving to the spec building at Mid-Carolina Commerce Park. This was the clincher for Samsung to commit. The park currently has four businesses and a fifth under construction across the highway. Once construction is complete, the industrial park will have seen about $120 million in new investment and nearly 700 new jobs, an extraordinary run in a property that sat vacant for the previous decade.
One of those businesses operating at Mid-Carolina Commerce Park is MMTechnics, a German family-owned business that is a supplier to BMW in Spartanburg. The owner was looking to open a plant in the Upstate closer to the BMW facility when the announcement was made that Volvo was going to open a plant in the Charleston area. That is when he became interested in Newberry with the hope of becoming a supplier to Volvo, too. As things worked out, MMTechnics did become a Volvo supplier and is strategically located to serve it and BMW.
Newberry’s future looks bright. The manufacturing sector will continue to be attracted to Newberry. A base has been established that will grow organically within itself, but a critical mass of manufacturing facilities also brings more manufacturing from outside, similar to what has taken place in the Upstate. Manufacturing jobs make up more than 25 percent of the Newberry workforce, which compares to only 8.5 percent nationally.
“We in Newberry would like to see the continued growth in manufacturing but also would like to see diversification in the form of higher skilled businesses paying higher wages,” Rick says. This summer, Newberry is announcing its first strategic plan mapping out the direction it will attempt to follow.
“At the end of the day, an improved quality of life for our people is what we seek, and economic development is just part of that picture,” he says. “It is hard to find a reason not to like Newberry as a place to live. Low crime, good schools, low cost of living, and a great location for the lake, mountains, and coast are winning features, but also Newberry has a wonderful opera house and college and is attracting more restaurants.”
Christy and Sean Pomeroy came to Newberry 10 years ago after a nationwide search. They came from the D.C. area in northern Virginia, where they started and grew a small software company. They desired a better quality of life and realized that they could run their company from anywhere. Newberry had everything they were looking for except coffee shops, so they opened one called Half Full and since then several more have followed them.
Located in the Southern Midlands of Columbia, Orangeburg is also experiencing a good run of economic development that looks sure to continue. Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission, says, “A lot of little things have come together over the years to create an environment appealing to companies looking to expand.”
Branding Orangeburg for its logistics makes perfect sense given its location at the crossroads of two major interstates and its close proximity to Charleston and Columbia. It touts itself as midway between New York and Miami and within a single day’s drive of 30 percent of all U.S. manufacturing facilities. The port of Charleston is less than an hour away, and the port of Savannah is under two.
With any expansion, companies want to know that they have a good labor pool from which to choose, and Orangeburg’s technical education infrastructure is as robust as its industrial site inventory. O-C Technical College provides ready-to-work graduates upon which companies rely. The county also has access to two main line rail carriers — one of the few counties in the state. More than location had to come into play, such as building infrastructure. New interchanges were built as well as water delivery and sewer systems to attract business development.
“Ready to go building sites are mandatory in the business development game, which takes time and patience,” says Gregg. Orangeburg County has 3,000 acres with 11 industrial parks it either owns or controls that can be developed for business. One of the new industrial parks, Shamrock Commerce Park, will have a privately funded 534,702-square-foot spec building, which is the largest ever built in the Midlands and already has a Letter of Intent on the building.
Orangeburg is definitely in the building mode with a new 125,000-square-foot spec building under construction at Exit 97 on I-95 too. The South Carolina Gateway Park has the ability to build up to 6 million square feet on 1,300+ acres. In addition, the Orangeburg County Power Site located on
US 21 south of Orangeburg is intended for heavy manufacturing and is enhanced by a state funded spine road from the Site Readiness Program at SCDOC. The site can deliver over 100 MW of power and several million gallons of water and sewer today.
One of the latest business expansions to Orangeburg is Premium Peanut, a $64 million investment that will create 130 new jobs. Premium Peanut is a farmer-owned shelling facility based in Georgia that started operations in 2014 and has rapidly become one of the largest in the world. Currently handling 300,000 tons, which is 10 percent of the national peanut crop, Premium Peanut will give South Carolina farmers a closer facility to deliver their crop instead of shipping out of state with the added costs incurred.
Another significant addition to Orangeburg’s economic development is BRN Sleep Products, which supplies mattresses, box springs, and other bed components. It is making a multi-million-dollar investment that will create 300 new jobs. Numerous new companies have come to the Orangeburg area over the years, such as INDEVCO, Walker Emulsions, Inbra Chemicals, and Red Collar Pet Care to name a few. Existing industries that continue to grow are Zeus (HQ’d in Orangeburg), Allied Air Enterprises, and Husqvarna, which represent over one million square feet of new construction between them in the past five years. There are currently 29 international companies with a significant presence there, and announcements for new developments are expected this summer.
Economic development has had positive ramifications for Orangeburg and Orangeburg County. Hourly wages have almost doubled since 2005 from $10.71 to $20.00. Per capita income has increased from $28,452 in 2010 to almost $33,818 today. Construction permits hit a record in 2021 with 3,145. New parks have been developed, including a $20 million baseball park designed to attract the Little League World Series. A new $14 million library and conference center downtown has been constructed, and a new park with a kayak launch has been built on the Edisto River, which just opened for summer water lovers ... all adding another element of recreation and lifestyle to a growing Orangeburg County.
Newberry and Orangeburg are both taking advantage of their intrinsic attributes and amplifying them with aggressive leadership that is taking a proactive approach to economic development. To the north and the south of Columbia, both of these communities benefit from their close proximity to the Capital City by providing both with a large labor pool, suppliers, and recreational opportunities that are only a short drive away. As all three of these communities continue to grow and expand, the synergy between them will increase, providing economic and quality of life benefits.