The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report a healthy jump in Edgefield County’s Gross Domestic Product.
Dr. Simon Medcalfe, economics professor at Augusta University and contributor to Augusta Business Daily, reviewed the data and found that Edgefield County is leading the Augusta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).
Overall, Medcalfe said the GDP in the seven-county metro area grew by 0.5% in 2022. The economies of Burke, Columbia, and McDuffie counties shrank, while Richmond, Lincoln, Aiken, and Edgefield counties grew.
“The fastest growth was seen in Edgefield County at 4.6 percent,” he said, adding “Edgefield’s growth was most pronounced in manufacturing, which increased by 25 percent from 2021. In durable goods, manufacturing output increased by 51.6 percent.”
One of the county’s largest employers is Generac, which manufactures generators for residential, light commercial, and industrial use. In the February 2021 announcement it was coming to Edgefield County, the company planned 450 jobs. By June, it announced an expansion which would add another 300 jobs when the plant opened in October 2021.
Edgefield County Administrator, David Caddell told ABD the county’s economic development incentives, including offering a fee in lieu of property taxes, make the county attractive. It is a program available in South Carolina for industries that invest at least $2.5 million.
“We’ve had several major expansions of existing industries, with U.S. Fibers, with Bonded, where we were able to give incentives and those add jobs,” he said. “Yes, we would love to land another Generac or two. It would really be a game changer for Edgefield County, but we are continuing to move forward by the expansion of our existing industries.”
The county is also seeing a growth in new housing although, Caddell said, it is below the overall growth rate for South Carolina.
“We have quality subdivisions going in, quality housing going in. It’s fairly fast growth in the Merriwether area, but if you average that county-wide, it’s not that huge,” he explained. “It’s fairly easy to plan because the infrastructure is already there in the Merriwether area. If we had this growth hitting some other parts of the county where the infrastructure is not built out as well, the water, the sewer, what have you, it would be more of an issue.”
An area with existing infrastructure is also a new business selling point for the county, specifically in the industrial park on Highway 25.
“We have the road system, we have the stormwater pond design for anything that could be built out there,” Caddell listed. “We have the water, sewer, fairly good power, but honestly, there are some industries now that their power demand is pretty high. But we’re set up, we’re ready to go with more than a block of land full of pine trees.”
However, Edgefield County offers something more intangible that potential businesses find attractive, quality of life. It is something Caddell said he learned was important during the economic development seminars he attended this past year.
“It used to just be location, location, location, proximity to interstate and secondary roads, it was a housing supply for workers. But now, things like amenities for the workers like parks and county recreational type opportunities so that workers want to move there with their families with school-aged children have risen in the polls of what’s important to locate somewhere,” he said.
Edgefield County has some built-in draws, including the small-town charm of downtown Edgefield and unique businesses like Carolina Moonshine on the downtown square, the Wild Turkey Federation on Highway 25, and Three Star Vineyard and Orchard in Johnston.
However, Caddell said one thing that is needed is additional, affordable housing that new and mid-tier employees can afford.
“Merriwether has a couple of affordable subdivisions, but most of them, the price point’s a little high for new workers,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to recognize the problem and encourage housing in that $180,000 to $200,000 price point. It’s not subsidized housing. That’s just affordable housing for people starting out.”
Caddell realizes some county residents feel there is excessive growth happening in the county. He understands that when looking at specific areas, such as Merriwether and near the boundary with North Augusta. He said they want to manage growth that attracts new businesses and residents while keeping the county attractive for current residents and their children by providing job opportunities.
“It’s good to guard against rapid growth, but if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Good steady growth. The opportunity for your children to have jobs if they choose to stay here and not be forced to leave looking for jobs. We want to welcome new people, and we want our children to have the opportunity to remain if they choose to do that,” he said.