Economic Development picking up in the Pee Dee
By Melissa Rollins, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
During the annual meeting of Darlington County Progress, North Eastern Strategic Alliance (NESA) Executive Director Jeff McKay talked about the work that has been done in the last year to continue the upward trajectory of economic progress in the Pee Dee Region.
“Our number one goal and our mission statement are pretty clear: we want to do everything we can to create job opportunities and investment opportunities for the counties that we serve,” McKay said. “NESA is truly a public-private partnership. We are funded by the counties that we serve, we go out and raise private funds and then we have access to a few state dollars.”
McKay said that growth has been unequal across the state but NESA and the Darlington County Economic Partnership have been working to bring balance.
“We represent nine counties all over the northeast part of the state; our territory runs from Pageland (in) Chesterfield County down to Georgetown,” McKay said. “I think I’ll be in good company when I say this, I think we’ve been neglected a little bit by the rest of the state. You see a lot of development that is taking place in the upstate and the lowcountry. NESA’s job is to go out there and knock on those doors, whether it be in Columbia or outside the state, and make sure that when a company is thinking about growing and expanding that they don’t only think about those two areas of the state, they think about us as well. I think we are getting there.”
In the past few years, McKay said, companies are starting to see the potential in the Pee Dee Region.
“We have had 87 new leads that have been developed within the region,” McKay said. “That is already seven more leads than we had last year at this time and we still have a couple of more months to go. We also have two more recruiting missions on the books. That will tell you that curve is going up for us and we feel real good, not only about the number of leads but also the type of leads that we are seeing.”
NESA made the decision to seek out a market that not many others were seeking out and McKay said that decision has worked well for the region.
“We are one of the few regions that actively go after food processing,” McKay said. “We are the best place in the state to grow something. We have a proven agriculture history here; we have infrastructure that supports food and food processing. We made a commitment probably seven or eight years ago to make that a target. Well, we are seeing the results of that now as we see a lot of food processing and agribusiness activity in this region. It has become such a good target that a couple areas of the state now have picked it up as their target as well so we are starting to get some competition.”
Last month, the Darlington County Economic Partnership made the announcement that Fiber Industries would be reopening the old textile plant on McIver Road. McKay said those kinds of announcements are encouraging but counties must prepare themselves for growth.
“Workforce development is critical across the board,” McKay said. “If we can catalogue and continue to promote the skill sets that we have here, that’s going to set you apart from a lot of folks. The number one concern that I’m hearing from companies as we travel across the globe is ‘Where am I going to get employees with the skill sets that I need for the technologies that we are seeing today. If you are prepared to show a company that you can address that, I promise you that will be the biggest incentive or advantage that you have and it will set you apart. ”