Looking for a job in Richland County? If so, the last year has been unusually hopeful.
On Aug. 10, Trane, which manufactures heating and air conditioning units, announced an expansion of its Killian Road plant that will create 700 jobs. The company said it will invest $96 million in the project and more than double its workforce there.
That announcement boosted Richland County’s investment total in the last 10 months to $445 million and 2,275 jobs – by far the largest industrial bounce since Union Camp built a $600 paper mill in Eastover in 1981.
Those are impressive numbers considering that in 2010, the county didn’t even have an economic development office. It was the last county in South Carolina without one, and since then Richland County has played catch-up as neighboring Lexington County attracted big investments from companies like Michelin and Amazon. Elsewhere, BMW and Boeing announced investments in Spartanburg and Charleston counties, respectively.
“There have been challenges” in Richland County, S.C Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt told The State newspaper after Chinese fiberglass manufacturer Jushi announced in November that it was building a $300 million plant in the county. “But they are becoming more attuned to what it takes to win.”
Today, not only does Richland County have an economic development office, but it is building a sprawling 900-acre industrial park at Shop and Pineview roads. And it’s spending $24 million to extend Shop Road into the park, funded by the county’s penny sales tax for transportation.
In addition, the county is doing a lot of the little things that attract companies, such as working with the state to help firms like Jushi, a Chinese company, feel more comfortable.
“They were culturally sensitive to the needs of a Chinese company,” said China Jushi USA President Drew Walker said.
In addition to Trane, other major economic development projects in Richland County include:
▪ Jushi, a fiberglass manufacturer, is expected to initially create 400 jobs in the new industrial park, called Pineview Industrial Park. A second phase of the project, not included in the previous numbers, would include an identical plant and add another 400 jobs.
▪ Chinese firm Hengshi also plans to locate at Pineview Industrial Park. The company is expected to invest $11.1 million in a 111,000-square-foot facility that will create 48 jobs. Hengshi specializes in research, development, production and marketing of a variety of fiber-weaving products for export around the world. Primarily used in wind turbine blades, the company’s products are also used in space flight, aviation, construction, transportation, environmental protection and more. It is a Jushi customer.
▪ National clothier LuLaRoe will create at least 1,000 jobs at its new East Coast distribution center in Blythewood. It purchased the former Bose plant for $16 million and is investing $35 million to upfit it.
Presently there are 300 employees working at the plant, which expects to ramp up to 500 employees by the end of the year. Next year, the California-based, multilevel marketing company plans to add a second shift of another 500 employees, a spokeswoman for the company said.
One of the reasons LuLaRoe located in Richland County, company owner Mark Stidham said in a May interview, is its central location on the East Coast.
“As we conducted a search for our first East Coast distribution hub, the Columbia area checked all the important boxes,” Stidham said. “We conducted a study that found that shipping from the Columbia area provided the shortest shipping time to the majority of independent fashion retailers, which was our top priority. We also found a fantastic existing building located in Blythewood in the Columbia area that we felt could be easily equipped to meet our needs.”
The deal was made in just six weeks. The company asked for no state or local incentives.
The county is crisscrossed by three interstates, and is a short drive to three other markets – Greenville, Charleston and Charlotte.
Jushi’s Walker said location was an important factor in his company’s decision to locate here.
“Richland County is well-located,” he said. “We do significant business in South Carolina and North Carolina. And we have a lot of customers within a two-hour drive, and our raw materials (mainly silica) come in from a 50-mile radius.”
Walker said the workforce in the county and surrounding region was another plus because it is young and “untapped.” Also, Fort Jackson is retiring 75 to 85 soldiers a month who usually take civilian jobs.
“There are a lot of young people coming out of the technical colleges, and we plan to tap into the retired veterans market,” he said.
Jeff Ruble, Richland County economic development director, noted that with a median age of 32.7, Richland County is the youngest in South Carolina, and 205th out of 3,142 counties in the United States. Also, Richland County also ranks No. 3 in South Carolina and No. 194 nationally in a compilation of educational measures such as educational attainment and SAT scores.
The University of South Carolina, as well as the county’s other colleges, adds greatly to those rankings. The county currently has 55,000 college students.
Continued economic success depends heavily on maintaining Fort Jackson and keeping those college graduates home, Ruble said. Lowering taxes and adding more industrial sites would also help recruit more companies, he said.
One other factor has played into Richland County’s job creation successes and promise of more in the future. In the last decade, the Vista has come into full flower and now Main Street is blossoming, adding to the city’s entertainment, dining and shopping experience.
“Columbia is just a cooler place to live,” Ruble said. “If you have a cool place to live, people will move there. And companies will follow the talent.”
Richland County economic development by-the-numbers
$445 million – Total investment announced during the last 10 months
2,275 – Number of jobs announced during the last 10 months
4.2% – Richland County’s July jobless rate