NEWBERRY COUNTY — The state Secretary of Commerce dropped in on this week’s Newberry County Council meeting to pat the county on the back for the progress it has made and the promise it continues to show.
Bobby Hitt said economic development is a local event, not a Columbia event, and that his team’s job is to support local communities and help them put their best foot forward.
He praised Newberry County.
“Newberry County has come a great distance and it has had some good growth. You can see it and feel it in the community. For that, all of us should be proud,” Hitt said.
According to Hitt, South Carolina is leading the southeast in growth, specifically the growth of manufacturing jobs.
“We are doing a good job of competing with our neighbors to the north, and North Carolina and in Georgia, and that is very important to me. I pay a lot of attention to that,” Hitt said. “We have the same advantages that they have. We should be able to hold our own.
“Both of those states are about 2.3 times our size in terms of people and budgets,” he added. “I am happy to tell you, when you drive through North Carolina these days, you see a lot of buildings for rent, and you drive through South Carolina and you see buildings being built. It’s a very exciting time for us.”
Hitt said teamwork is helping the Palmetto State grow and cited local leadership for doing the right things to cultivate an environment of industrial success in Newberry County.
However, there have been challenges in Newberry. Hitt mentioned the announcement that Caterpillar was closing in Newberry. Hitt said no one could foresee that, and that the decision to close was made out of state.
“We will help them finish their operation, then we will roll up our sleeves and go after that site and see what comes next,” he said. “We should always look at what is next, what is bigger and what is better, and what can we do with an already skilled workforce and newly available products, such as industrial sites.”
South Carolina is in fierce competition with neighboring states, according to Hitt, but South Carolina has been bloodying their noses over the last several years.
“The little state of South Carolina is leading all 50 states in foreign direct investment, on a per capita basis, and if you look at it in just an aggregate basis, we are number four out of the 50 states,” Hitt said. “We export more cars than anybody in the United States. We are the premium car state. It is an amazing accomplishment. The automobile industry has spread itself out in South Carolina in 25 years, and is now in 38 of our 46 counties.”
Hitt added that South Carolina needs to continue with product development, which is the development of sites that are available. He compared this to being in retail, where you have to have a product to show customers.
“I will give you a vivid example. Prior to my coming into the department, we worked with a company that ultimately landed in Spartanburg County. It was a Japanese company that invested over a billion dollars,” he said. “We showed them sites everywhere.”
He said he knew the sites from his time with BMW.
“A young group of people took over management of those particular sites. They went in and cut down some trees and prepared an area so as to grub the area and create a little bit of a pad,” Hitt said. “I was there the day the chairman of that Japanese company stood on that site and looked around and said to me, ‘I see today where I will build our new plant in North America.’”
Hitt said counties need to have that same approach to development: sitting ready for a company to choose them.
Hitt also told council that Gov. Nikki Haley sent along her regards when she learned he was coming to Newberry.
“She has been to the Opera House and she likes very much coming here, especially when we have announcements,” Hitt said. “She has been a remarkable member of our team. Since she came in and asked me to join her and work together as a team to do what we do, we announced $50 million in new investments in Newberry and about 350 jobs. Most of you remember who those were — Falcon Boats, Sea Pro Boats and Kiswire.”
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @ TheNBOnews.