Chester County wants to keep its growing economy strong, but the county will have to pay for it.
Chester County Council needs a new economic development director as Karlisa Parker Dean plans to retire at year’s end. Dean has overseen considerable growth in Chester County, particularly in manufacturing. Employers like Giti Tire pumped jobs and investment dollars into the largely rural county, along its Interstate 77 corridor.
“She is the quarterback of economic development,” said Shane Stuart, county supervisor. “And she’s done very, very well over the years.”
So well, replacing Parker Dean is difficult, Stuart said.
“To get someone the caliber of Karlisa, you’re going to have to pay them,” Stuart said. “And that is definitely something we need to address.”
Economic development leaders looked at several counties of similar population and found director position salaries start on average at $99,000.
“We’re not there yet,” Stuart said.
It isn’t just smaller counties Chester has in mind. Located on I-77 between Charlotte and Columbia puts Chester in competition for economic development projects with those cities and counties in the I-77 Alliance.
“We can’t just look at counties that are our size,” said Councilman Alex OIiphant. “We have to compete with the York counties and the bigger counties because (of) the type of development that has occurred here and that could continue to occur here.”
Chester County has more than 50 manufacturing sites. Boise Cascade, Guardian Industries, Carolina Poly, ATI Industries and Boral Stone Products combine for almost 1,700 existing or planned jobs. The county’s largest manufacturer Giti Tire USA has more than 700 jobs, and another 1,700 planned.
“We have increased production significantly over the last 18 months, and we will continue to increase production at this facility,” Giti manufacturing vice president Hank Eisenga told Council Monday night.
Giti is a major accomplishment for economic development under Parker Dean’s watch, and continues as one with new equipment coming in regularly to ramp up production.
“We’re committed to the success of the Richburg plant, to our employees and to the Chester community,” Eisenga said. “We look forward to a long and healthy relationship.”
According to county economic development data at the I-77 Alliance, Chester County employment and annual wages have grown at twice the national rate in recent years. Those statistics put Chester County at the top of the state for new jobs announced per capita.
“We have one of the best and most successful economic development departments in the state,” Oliphant said. “It would even go further than just the state. The numbers tell it all.”
Numbers, notably dollar figures, could go far in determining future success. Council will workshop the newly posted director position to decide a salary. The online listing lists pay grade as negotiable.
“It would be a good idea for the hiring committee to not review resumes or applicants until we set this salary,” Councilman Pete Wilson.
The hiring committee is made up of Parker Dean and other county economic development leaders.
“It’s critical that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot over $20,000 or $30,000, or $40,000,” Oliphant said. “We need to make sure we have a competitive pay.”
The county isn’t looking for someone simply to show up at ribbon cuttings but for someone who can make deals happen.
“This position is very important,” Stuart said. “Can’t overstate that.”
Chester County has more land for manufacturing and industry. Choose Chester, the economic development arm of the county, lists 38 properties and 11 buildings ready for development. They range from single, smaller buildings to a more than 400-acre riverfront property.
“We have a lot of inventory, which is sites, that other places don’t have, that are ready to go,” Oliphant said. “We can’t be short-sighted here.”