Exclusive: Area Development Magazine Ranks S.C. No. 5 for Doing Business

Richard Breen

Friday, October 5th, 2018

South Carolina remains highly thought of in economic development circles, as indicated by a trade journal’s recent ranking.

Area Development magazine ranked South Carolina No. 5 in its annual Top States for Doing Business. Georgia was No. 1 for the fifth year in a row. North Carolina ranked sixth.

South Carolina is a perennial inhabitant of the magazine’s top 10, having finished second in 2017, 2016, 2013 and 2012, and third in 2015 and 2014.

“Regular appearances at or near the top are a reflection of success, and the ongoing success that builds upon past wins and positive reputations,” Area Development wrote in announcing this year’s rankings.

The magazine used 11 categories by which to compare states.

“When you look at the number of categories where we were in the top five, that’s pretty impressive,” said Mark Warner, president of the S.C. Economic Developers’ Association.

The Palmetto State made the top five states in seven of the categories and was top 10 in nine categories. It was No. 1 under “business incentive programs.”

“Its menu of incentives is long and diverse – many focus on lowering corporate income, sales or local property taxes,” Area Development wrote. “But many of its economic development successes are also driven by job development credits, workforce development incentives, and grants from such discretionary funds as the Set-Aside Program, the Rural Infrastructure Fund, and the Governor’s Closing Fund, all of which can be tailored to an individual company’s needs.”

Richard Blackwell, a Southeast region vice president with industrial developer Agracel Inc., agreed that South Carolina is known for its incentive programs.

“We are very aggressive when it comes to the economic development approach, and that includes incentives,” said Blackwell, who is based in Greenville.

South Carolina was the No. 2 state behind Georgia under “cooperative and responsive state government.”

“Its services are similarly geared toward easing the location/expansion process, but the state also recognizes that all partners need to be at the top of their game in providing a cooperative and responsive effort,” Area Development wrote. “That’s why the state offers consultation assistance to its local governments to help them improve their own economic development responsiveness and professionalism.”

Warner said the cooperation comes from the “Team South Carolina” approach fostered by the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“It’s a competitive but cooperative environment,” said Warner, who serves as director of relationship development for Davis & Floyd Inc., a Greenwood-based engineering firm.

The tight-knit culture of economic developers is South Carolina’s “secret weapon,” according to Steve Dykes, Charleston County’s economic development director. His office recently received an award from the International Economic Development Council for its Business Concierge Program, which addresses the needs of existing industry.

“I’ve got two, full-time people dedicated to nothing but visiting our companies,” Dykes said.

Attending to existing industry helped the county land an Oct. 3 expansion announcement by Mahle Behr Charleston Inc. The truck parts supplier plans to invest $36 million and add 115 jobs at its North Charleston facility.

“Mahle has been in our community for upwards of 20 years now,” Dykes said. “We’ve helped them with some workforce challenges.”

Area Development pointed out that access to skilled labor will continue to be important to industry, putting a premium on states with strong workforce development programs.

“That’s a national theme right now,” Dykes said. He added that Charleston’s booming population and numerous state-supported worker training programs are helping to “refill the pipeline.”

Do these types of rankings register with economic developers? Blackwell said he was at an industry gathering in Georgia where officials there were touting their first-place finish.

“It certainly matters,” said Blackwell, who has worked in municipal, county and regional economic development. “It’s something that we all take pride in.”