Grand Strand, Pee Dee leaders talk economic development efforts at annual summit

Grand Strand, Pee Dee leaders talk economic development efforts at annual summit

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Jobs and economic development were the topics of discussion among Grand Strand and Pee Dee leaders at the annual Coastal and Pee Dee Economic Development Summit held by Congressman Tom Rice’s office Wednesday.

Educators, developers, employers and others driving economic development packed the Florence Darlington Technical College’s SiMT building to evaluate improvements over the last year and plan for the future.

“To give a person a job gives them hope,” Congressman Tom Rice said. “So we’re trying to build collaboration across the spectrum so that people understand what opportunities are available.”

The summit provided an economic outlook from federal, state and local levels.

Jennifer Fletcher, the Deputy Director for the South Carolina Department of Commerce said overall the state is seeing strong growth in the number of industrial projects and expansions in the state and anticipates 2019 to be a successful year.

She also mentioned two programs in place to help with workforce development, ManufirstSC and the Coordinating Council on Workforce Development.

Rice also revealed a positive outlook for the area saying every county in the district has an unemployment rate below 6 percent.

For the Pee Dee, much of that success is credited to the Dillon Inland Port that opened in April of 2018 and has since brought jobs to the county and neighboring ones. He said in January 2017, Marion County’s unemployment rate was nine percent. Today, it’s around five percent.

“People call it the ‘Corridor of Shame’ it makes me mad, it upsets me and I get frustrated, guess what, we’re going to start calling that the ‘Corridor of Opportunity,’” Rice said.

However, with the jobs comes the need for qualified people to fill them. That’s where technical colleges come into the equation.

“Education is the pathway to a job it’s key and that’s what our mission is,” FDTC President Edward Bethea said.

Bethea, along with officials from Horry-Georgetown Tech and North Eastern Technical College, were part of the discussion.

Each school touched on their more than 90 percent job placement, new virtual classes and state of the art facilities for training in the manufacturing industry.

"It’s just important that we continue preparing people for jobs, to take jobs... it’s a growing area, you know, this area and there’s just more and more jobs out there and there’s just really not enough people to fill them all,” Bethea said.

Locally, Mike Miller, President of Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said the area has seen tremendous growth over last several years.

Hotel rooms since 2010 have doubled, the number of restaurants have grown and accommodation tax receipts are up 64 percent. Downtown Florence has also brought 210 million dollars in private and public investments and another 50 million dollars to be announced shortly.

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