Setting the bait for Oconee
By Richard K. Blackwell
If you’ve ever gone pond fishing on a still summer day, you’ve probably seen something stir right below the surface, and wondered what caused the ripples. Was it a fish or a turtle – in other words, dinner, or a waste of bait?
Economic development is a lot like that: It’s meaningless to see what’s on the surface if you don’t understand what causes it. It’s easy to paint a rosy picture of the progress Oconee County has made, but to sustain that progress, we have to understand its underpinnings and continue to be responsive to the needs of businesses.
The Area Development Corporate Survey is an excellent tool for understanding Oconee County’s value proposition to potential employers — as defined by businesses that have already chosen to call this part of the Upstate home. And by comparing 2015 and 2016 results, we can track what businesses find compelling about the area.
Not surprisingly, “highway accessibility” was at the top of the rankings in 2015 and 2016, and actually rose in importance from No. 2 to No. 1 in that span. In the 2016 survey, 94.4 percent of those responding said highway accessibility was the single-most important site-selection factor, up from 88 percent the year before. While “availability of skilled labor” fell from No. 1 in 2016, it still ranked as the second-most-important factor on the survey. A key challenge to Oconee County, then, is to ensure that we support highway improvements and continue to train a workforce that can meet the needs of current — and future — employers.
“Labor costs” had a substantial jump among cited factors, moving up from No. 6 to No. 3, just one place above “occupancy or construction costs.” Both of these factors demonstrate industries’ appreciation for our overall low cost of living compared to other parts of the nation.
Government incentives are sometimes portrayed in a negative light, but their economic impact cannot be underestimated, as Nos. 5, 6 and 7 all involve government-offered lures: “state and local incentives;” “corporate tax rate;” and “tax exemptions.” We’ve demonstrated in Oconee County and throughout the Palmetto State that lawmakers at all levels are willing to go to bat to catch prize employers that will create long-term benefits for all our residents, and those efforts will continue to be a good investment for our state.
Rounding out the top 10, in order, are “energy availability and costs,” “proximity to major markets,” and “quality of life” – none of which should surprise anyone who lives here. For the most part, all three of these reflect geographic advantages – we are fortunate to live in an exceptional part of a beautiful state, close (but not too close) to major cities, and in a region that has had a long-term commitment to clean power generation, from hydroelectric to nuclear.
These are only the top 10 of some 28 site-selection factors that were identified in the survey, but even without delving into other important factors – such as water availability, low shipping costs and availability of land – it should be clear that Oconee County has the right bait to keep hauling in the trophy industries that will grow with us for generations to come.
Richard K. Blackwell is the executive director of Oconee Economic Alliance, which is a public-private nonprofit effort to accelerate job creation and capital investment, increase per capita income, diversify the local tax base and generate awareness of Oconee County as a business location. To learn more visit www.InvestOconeeSC.com.