In order to enhance the odds of recruiting industry — new or expansions — county officials opted to update its 2008 strategic planning.
Monday started a series of economic development meetings open to the public throughout the county; feedback would be utilized by consulting firm Sanford Holshouser to readjust the county’s long and short term job creation planning.
A key issue in separate meetings among Cheraw and Chesterfield leadership is the county’s fragmentation.
“Every day in our county shouldn’t be a Friday night game,” Cheraw Mayor Scott Hunter said. “We need to work together.”
Going at marketing alone is difficult when segmentation is an issue, said Crystal Morphis, managing partner of Sanford Morris Holeshouser.
“It seems like we go our separate ways,” said Charlie Gray, Team Chesterfield. “We don’t have a lot of money but we’re on our own.”
In certain segments, towns are footing the bill for recreation programs beyond its borders.
“The county needs to step-up,” Chesterfield Mayor John Douglas said. “It’s up to each town to provide for their citizens and for the citizens in the surrounding area.”
Industries suited for Chesterfield County in a 2008 plan, include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, warehousing and distribution, added foods, metal working and retirement housing development.
“There has been a recession with high unemployment rates. Competition is very much heightened with communities offering (industrial) real estate at rock bottom prices,” Morphis said.
The landscape has changed for industry with many holding off on expansion pending the general election and the holidays.
“The election results and health care are the two biggest unknowns for industries,” Morphis said. “Consumer confidence is low and a lot of businesses are waiting to see if that’s bumped up or not.”
The county has landed targeted industries from the 2008 study, though in the Pageland area, some portions of the study are no longer applicable.
In Cheraw and Ruby, retirement villages were in the midst of development but since have fallen to the wayside.
“It will be a while before that sector returns. Retirees aren’t retiring or re-entering the work force,” Morphis said.
That’s what they said
Cheraw’s assets towards industrial recruitment include excess of sewer capacity at over 2 million gallons per day and an available workforce, according to town and business leaders.
Railroad access and Northeastern Technical College were also added to the list of the town’s pros.
Those in attendance also offered golfing, Arrowhead Park, historical industries and being two hours away from an international airport and several hours away from the beach and mountains.
Clusters of industrial businesses town and county leaders could explore for Cheraw are information technology, health care and green industries.
Projects of local interest included eco-tourism such as bird watching and a hotel and conference center at or adjacent to the state park.
Financing is available in Cheraw, though not as easy to obtain as it was pre-recession.
“Underwriting is a lot more difficult, people need to have to have a lot more equity,” said John Long, First Bank Executive Vice President.
Going against Cheraw is the highway system out of the area.
U.S. Highway 1 and 52 are one-lanes, N.C. Highway 74 is riddled with stop lights and S.C. Highway 9 bottlenecks west past Chesterfield.
“There has been an emphasis in the county on Highway 9, but we need a four-lane to I-95,” Cheraw Mayor Scott Hunter said.
County officials placed a four-lane Hwy 9 project from Chesterfield to Pageland as its top road priority.
A voice in the crowd voted to include a bypass around Society Hill
“It’s more important to get product in and out than it is to get residents around the county,” Morphis said.
Despite positive comments about programs and training NETC and Chesterfield County School District, attendees admitted the Cheraw area has a low number of college graduates and unfavorable number of high school drop-outs, which puts some question as readiness and skills of the work force.
More than 200,000 people live within 35 miles of the town of Chesterfield.
How to bring them to the county seat is a challenge.
Town and business leaders are aiming towards a quality of life – tourism and recreation dollars, with hopes to translate those into retail and small industrial jobs.
According to Chesterfield leaders, industrial clusters possibly suited for Chesterfield include hospitality, retail, event traffic and recreation.
Town leaders believe Chesterfield is ideal for information technology, server farms and call/data centers with Carolinas Centre certified to house such industries but also the capital credits Sandhill Telephone Cooperative offers.
Chesterfield leaders believe their town assets are its geographical location; water and wastewater capacity; public schools; Sandhill Telephone Cooperative; Northeastern Technical College; a healthy downtown; 34 percent of the county being state and federal forests; and low taxes and low crime.
For the town’s cons, there is a lack of lodging, restaurants, rail, natural gas, population and proximity to an airport.
Like Cheraw, finances are available but acquiring them can be “a daunting task,” said Mike Caskey, First Citizens branch manager.
Chesterfield is poised to capitalize on sporting events with two American Motorcross Association certified tracks and several equestrian facilities.
In North Carolina, the equestrian market generates over $2 billion in its economy.
Bird watching, which topped Chesterfield’s list of overlooked prospects, is also a multi-billion dollar industry in North America.
Projects Chesterfield is currently involved with are creating conference center with classrooms at the Family YMCA building; water and sewer upgrades; and restoring the historic courthouse and visitor’s center. Still in the planning phase is the Bittle Street streetscape project.
Chesterfield County School District is renovating the old Edwards Elementary building to a regional culinary school for South Carolina cafeteria cooks.
With county council voting to keep a spec building project at Carolinas Centre, the town of Chesterfield is awaiting their next step.