By Bill Rauch
The Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation (BCEDC) is on track to meet its goal of attracting $50M in business investment into Beaufort County this fiscal year.
The fiscal year will conclude on June 31, and the BCEDC’s executive director, John A. O’Toole, says 14 projects that represent more than $40 million in business investment are in hand now, and another handful with anticipated investment totals that together exceed $10 million are about to be announced.
Beyond that, O’Toole says, BCEDC is aware of and working with another $30 million of business investment in the near-term pipeline
After years of expensive disappointments handed to taxpayers by predecessor economic development groups, how did BCEDC do it?
“Well, it’s a couple of things,” O’Toole explained last week. “We work with everyone: the Southern Alliance, the Digital Corridor, the Don Ryan Center for Innovation, the Commerce Park; we tell people right away if we think their business isn’t a good fit. For example, we screened out a group that needed to bring in and out 150 18-wheelers daily – we told them “no” right off; and most importantly we go hunting for rabbits and deer … not elephants.”
Those rabbits and deer piled up pretty quick this year.
The 14 projects that BCEDC has announced already represent 313 new jobs and 104 retained jobs that represent over $15 million in annual compensation. The average annual wage for these new and retained jobs is $48,000, BCEDC’s figures show.
“These are scaleable projects that in and of themselves don’t change the landscape,” O’Toole adds. “They’re not alarming to people.”
Not counted in the $50 million figure is the $150 million that is either being spent now or is expected to be spent next year on solar farms in Beaufort County. That’s because after they are constructed, solar farms aren’t jobs producers, and BCEDC’s mission is to bring in businesses that create jobs.
The largest of the businesses on O’Toole’s list is Lockheed Martin who now has 75 people on the ground at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and it is expected to be announcing additions to that number soon.
Lockheed Martin is the manufacturer of the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
MCAS Beaufort is a key home field and training facility for these new Generation 5 military aircraft.
Also high on the list are Burnt Church Distilleries, a Bluffton-based spirits manufacturer that is employing 35 people, and Watterson Brands, the holding company that owns Burnt Church Distilleries and a number of other companies that have been initiated by recent Bluffton transplant Billy Watterson. The holding company employs 19.
Also on O’Toole’s list is Alpha Genesis, a primate research and products center in Yemassee that is ramping up its activities. Alpha Genesis has added 32 jobs this year.
“Here’s what we also work on,” O’Toole added. “The environment, we have to guard it fiercely because it’s what brings people here; K-12 education, because that’s what equips the group who are going into the jobs that come here; transportation, because that’s how the goods and services that the jobs that come here produce get moved to market; and workforce housing, because the people going into the jobs that come here have to have an affordable place to live that’s not two hours away from the workplace.”
That’s the formula.
Its current success has certainly been helped by the recent strong economy. But, good times or bad, it’s pretty tough to dispute that O’Toole’s common sense approach is one that fits Beaufort County.