News Source: Kingstree News
After more than 20 years as director of Williamsburg County Economic Development, Executive Director Hilton McGill says it’s time to relax. He was hired in 1994 and is awaiting his replacement. Williamsburg County Council is in the process of identifying a candidate with the assistance of the South Carolina Department of Commerce.
During his tenure the county has seen industry growth such as Agru America, an Andrews based industry that produces high quality barrier systems; Palmetto Synthetics, a company that produces specialty synthetic fiber has expanded several times since opening in 1997; biotech giant DSM; Three D Metal Works, Inc. in Andrews; Valley Forge Flags; machine manufacturer Peddinghaus, and the Federal Prison in Salters are but a few.
McGill said though the economic growth continues, it is not the economic developer that brings in new jobs. “The community has to do that,” he said. “All we can do is open doors and bring people in and let them look at what’s here then it’s up to them to determine whether they want to locate their facility here.” The process is not as simple as one might think. Most industry has their own consultants who research communities and eliminate those that don’t fit. Companies undergo their own due diligence by studying the infrastructure (water/sewer), geotechnical, environmental, the school system, work ethic and a qualified workforce. Williamsburg County has seen its share of disaster. Nearly 80 companies have closed down since Hilton took the job. The county at one time experienced the highest unemployment in the state but things have changed. “We only had 60 (companies) to start with. Right now we probably have 60 or 65 companies. We replaced all of them,” said McGill. “And we took down unemployment from 22 percent down to 7.6 percent which is phenomenal.” McGill credits partnerships for the positive changes. “County council has been a tremendous ally of the delegation and having Senator Yancey McGill in Columbia was a big help.” He also credited the Department of Commerce for its support.
There’s no doubt Williamsburg County has a few strikes against it. “We don’t have an interstate, we don’t the population – the demographics for a company to come in and find a lot of employees,” said McGill. A workforce ready and willing to work is being addressed as well. “We’ve got a strategic plan that’s addressing that issue and the school systems and the technical college are all working towards improving the workforce. It’s just a great time right now in the county for things starting to move ahead.”
As for the future, McGill says the county is in good shape. “It’s going to be great,” said McGill who has prospective buyers for spec buildings located in Kingstree and Hemingway and the Firestone facility.
He said where we need to be is a county with even lower unemployment, higher paying jobs, a stronger computer-savvy workforce, continued product development, continued aggressive incentive packages and larger attractive sites; all of which are attainable. “I do believe we’ve been busier in the last year-and-a-half than we have been in the past 10 years.”
When asked about his predecessor, McGill said the person would have to understand water/sewer, grants, electrical, millage. “This is rural South Carolina. You’ve got to know it all.” He said the next executive director also would have to position himself to articulate the strengths of the workforce. “Put on the track shoes and be ready to work,” said McGill adding. “Things are starting to hop now. We’re seeing more and more prospects coming through the county.”