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Charleston Business

State of the Low Country:Dorchester County Takes International Recruiting Approach

May 10, 2018 07:59AM ● By Makayla Gay

By Brian Sherman

  Dorchester County is scouring the nation and the world in an effort to attract businesses and industries that will spawn jobs and prosperity for its more than 150,000 residents. Fast-growing Summerville, which sits on both sides of the border between Dorchester and its more populous neighbor, Berkeley County, takes a more passive approach to recruiting new commercial enterprises.

Representatives of both government entities agree that Act 388, passed by the South Carolina Legislature in 2006, has made it more difficult to convince companies to plant roots in the Palmetto State. The legislation reduced property taxes on owner-occupied homes and transferred much of the tax burden to business and industry.

That hasn’t stopped Dorchester County Economic Development, which helped convince seven companies to create 776 new jobs in 2017, raising the county’s three-year totals to 1,535 jobs and $293,850,000 in capital investment, according to figures provided by DCED.

“These are decent numbers. Compared to other counties our size, we did really well,” said DCED Director John Truluck, pointing out that the county is targeting companies in specific industries: automotive, aerospace, marine, logistics, and life sciences.

Those 776 jobs were at Kion, Sundaram-Clayton, Scout Boats, Cantey Technologies, James Hardie, Sportsman Boats, and Thrace LINQ.

Partnering with the state of South Carolina and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, DCED has been communicating with companies that might be interested in moving to or expanding in Dorchester County.

“The state put together a marketing trip to India in November, and I spent a week calling on companies,” Truluck said. “That went over really well. In the spring, I was in Spain and Italy, and Lindsey (Community Development and Marketing Manager Lindsey Culley) just got back from Connecticut. We’re all over the country and all over the world.”

Truluck pointed out that Dorchester County provides financial incentives for manufacturers considering setting up shop in the county, mostly in the form of fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreements, which can save a company around 40 percent on property taxes, according to the South Carolina Department of Revenue website. He said the county also has access to grant funds to pay for infrastructure improvements.

“Manufacturers pay almost twice what other commercial businesses pay and almost three times as much as homeowners pay in property taxes,” Truluck said. “Most of our incentives are to deal with that difference, to put them roughly on the same playing field.”

Summerville, the seventh largest city in South Carolina, doesn’t actively recruit new businesses, according to Mayor Wiley Johnson.

“We haven’t had to,” said Johnson. “They are coming to us as fast as we can deal with it. Our Commercial Design Review Board had a four-and-a-half-hour meeting just to talk about all these projects coming to Summerville.”

The mayor referred to Act 388, which taxes manufacturing property at 10.5 percent, commercial property at 6 percent, and owner-occupied homes at only 4 percent of fair market value, as “one of the worst pieces of legislation.”

The mayor said there isn’t enough land within the city limits to attract a huge company such as Volvo, but he added that he would rather see smaller businesses move to Summerville and maintain the small-town feel of “The Flowertown in the Pines.”

“We can put together areas of land that are a lot better suited to smaller industry and small businesses, which I’m really excited about,” he said. “That gives you a lot of diversity and doesn’t change the town overnight. When you have a downturn in the economy, you don’t feel it as much.”

Neither Truluck nor Johnson see the economy weakening anytime soon. Major road projects are moving along, including the Nexton interchange on Interstate 26, the extension of Marymeade Drive, and the completion of Berlin G. Myers Parkway, and Johnson is hopeful that he can help kick-start a plan to establish a bus transportation system between Summerville and Charleston. He said, however, that it will be around seven years before the funds are available to complete the project.

“There’s much more to it than providing buses. We have to convince folks that it’s a good solution to our traffic problems,” he said.

Truluck, meanwhile, said Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, and the suppliers they are expected to attract to Dorchester County and its environs, along with the deepening of Charleston Harbor, “speak well to where the region is headed in the future.”

Culley added that the local school system is playing a proactive role in the area’s growth by preparing students for jobs with the companies that are coming to Dorchester County. Space for the Dorchester School District Two’s Advanced Manufacturing Program is under construction at Summerville High.

“The things going on in the schools and other workforce development partners will better prepare our workforce for these jobs,” she said.