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Calhoun and Bamberg counties might be among the smallest in the state but they carry a big economic punch.

Calhoun County boasts globally recognized businesses such as Starbucks, one of only a half dozen roasting plants worldwide, and Devro Inc., one of the world's leading manufacturers of edible casings.

Agriculture has been a key component in Calhoun County's economy as well through the years.

The county's location between the state capital of Columbia and the Port of Charleston, as well as the ease of interstate travel, make it a competitor when attracting big business.

Bamberg County also carries a big stick when it comes to manufacturers.

Worldwide companies as diverse as Phoenix Specialty Manufacturing, Collins Aerospace and Pegasus Home Fashions in Denmark have located manufacturing operations in the county.

In addition, Bamberg County is home to many small manufacturers in the forest products, agribusiness and other manufacturing sectors.

Both counties are a testament to the importance of manufacturing within their respective borders.

Calhoun County

Industry is a driver of the county's economic machine and continues to be an important part of Calhoun County even through the challenges of COVID-19.

COVID-19 impacted manufacturers primarily in the slowdown of the distribution of raw materials and final products in the logistics chain, though significant layoffs were avoided.

The Central South Carolina Alliance team remains as a resource for manufacturers in the county.

Manufacturing and industry are the tax base for the county.

About 17.4% of the county's workforce is employed in manufacturing and some of the county’s largest employers are manufacturers. The food and beverage manufacturing industry is 8.9 times more concentrated in Calhoun County than the national average, according to Black.

County Administrator John McLauchlin said the county has received prospect visits as well as some interest from companies over the last year.

He said it has been a difficult year for economic development due to COVID. He said many industries in the county had to change employment shifts but all is "back at full speed now."

Calhoun County Council also give first reading to a new solar project during its April 13 meeting. Details of the project will be provided upon third and final reading.

Industry is keeping taxes down, McLauchlin said. "It is allowing the citizens of Calhoun County to enjoy the property tax they have to pay. That is our goal to keep industry coming."

McLauchlin said the county is poised for great things with the Sandy Run Industrial Park and the Calhoun County Industrial Park.

He said the county has developed a community development division that is going to assist in workforce, education, medical, environmental and housing development.

The division will help in the promotion, advancement, marketing and selling of the county.

Calhoun County is attractive due to its proximity to the Columbia market, its educated labor force and its training programs through ReadySC and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

The county boasts access to Interstate 26; fully served infrastructure with utilities, rail and transportation; small-town charm in a rural setting with big-city amenities; and a low cost of doing business with taxes and affordable labor.

The Central South Carolina Alliance helps recruit economic development into the area. The CSCA consists of Orangeburg, Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry and Richland counties, and the City of Orangeburg.

According to the CSCA, the county's major employers are:

  • DAK Americas LLC,  Plastic materials & resins manufacturing 430
  • Devro Inc, edible casings for meat packaging, 300
  • Zeus Industrial Products Inc., high-performance polymer tubing for aerospace, automotive, medical and other industries, 175.
  • Starbucks Roasting Plant, roasts and distributes coffee, 101.
  • Alaglass Pools, fiberglass pool construction, 100.

Agriculture also remains important to Calhoun County and beyond as it is one of the largest industries in the county and the state.

The county has also identified opportunity zones that can contribute to attracting economic development opportunities to areas that need them the most.

The federal opportunity zone program provides tax incentives to encourage long-term, private investment in low-income communities.

Workforce development is also front and center in economic development as the demand for skilled labor increases.

Industrial announcements made in the county in the past year include:

  • Tri-County Electric Cooperative kicked off a three-year project to bring a fiber optic network to Calhoun County and beyond.

The project was launched with a ceremony at the Moorer Road substation just outside of St. Matthews in August 2020.

The project will start in St. Matthews and build out into the rural areas over the next three years.

The service will transmit data up to 1 gigabit per second, which is fast enough to download a full, high-definition movie in just a few minutes.

The investment for the project is $50 million.

The first test customers were connected in the middle of December.

The St. Matthews-based utility will be working with engineering firm Conexon to construct about 1,700 miles of fiber network that will serve about 15,000 homes and businesses in six counties, including Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.

Calhoun County has annually held an industry appreciation golf tournament and plans to do so again this fall. The event will most likely be held in September or October.

Bamberg County

Manufacturers in Bamberg County stepped up to the plate in support of the COVID-19 response.

Bamberg's Phoenix Specialty, a manufacturer of custom specialty parts to original-equipment manufacturers,  increased its production for parts used in ventilators.

Pegasus Home Fashions in Denmark focused resources in several locations on supplying hospital pillows around the country.

Collins Aerospace (formerly Delavan/UTC) pivoted production to produce nozzles used in disinfection of rooms, subways and buses.

"We are very proud of the role that our industries played in alleviating the spread of the COVID-19 virus," Southern Carolina Economic Development Alliance Vice President of Marketing Kay Maxwell said.

Industry in the county stepped up to the plate despite COVID challenges.

Prior to the pandemic, the county's unemployment rate was at the lowest rate it had been in almost 20 years: 4.4% in April 2019 and at 4.6% at the end of the year. (The lowest prior to that was 3.7% in October 2000.)

The annual unemployment rate for the county had been declining every year since 2012 until the pandemic hit.

"Unfortunately, during the pandemic in 2020, employment rates began to climb in Bamberg County and throughout the country," Maxwell said. "Bamberg County was not hit as hard as some counties in South Carolina, such as Horry and Beaufort, which depend so much on retail and hospitality."

Maxwell noted the county's largest employers represent a diverse array of manufacturing, education, health care and other services, helping to stabilize the impact of COVID on the county.

No Bamberg County industries completely shut down plant operations due to COVID-19.

Maxwell said industries in Bamberg County have a significant impact on the local economy.

"Our industries and small businesses are the backbone of our local and regional economies," Maxwell said. "They not only provide direct jobs, but indirect and induced jobs as well through the support services, suppliers, restaurants, retail and health care providers that flourish because of these industries and their employees."

"Industries also provide much of the tax revenue that funds our county services," Maxwell said. "Because Bamberg County is a member of the SouthernCarolina Alliance and participates in a multicounty revenue-sharing agreement with her sister counties, our communities also benefit from the large industries in surrounding counties. So not only are Bamberg County industries important to us, the industries in our surrounding counties are important as well."

Bamberg County industries have also benefited from membership in the SCA in facilitating the COVID-19 response. The SCA also includes Hampton, Barnwell, Allendale, Colleton and Jasper counties.

The agency worked with the S.C. Manufacturing Alliance and the S.C. Department of Commerce to connect them with companies that had the capability to manufacture COVID-19 products. The SCA also made contact with existing industries to help disseminate information from state and federal agencies, assist with PPPs (Payment Protection Program) and connect industries to resources.

According to the SCA, major employers in Bamberg County include:

  • Phoenix Specialty, washers, shims and stampings, 122 employees.
  • Collins Aerospace, heating nozzles, 112 employees
  • Pegasus Home Fashions, home fashions, 107 employees

Industries making investment announcements or beginning operations in Bamberg County in the past year include:

  • Ctg² Technologies, a manufacturer of protective coatings for print, announced Dec. 9 that the company will create 12 jobs and invest $1 million over the next five years.

The company is located in an existing 50,000-square-foot facility at 186 Accumulator Drive. The building was formerly occupied by Freudenberg, formerly Tobul Industries. Freudenberg announced earlier in 2020 that it was closing its Bamberg facility.

With over 75 years in the printing business, the owners of Ctg² Technologies work with customers across industry sectors, producing AQ coatings, UV coatings and antimicrobial coatings for a diverse array of products.

Some examples of the company's products are the clear coatings over printed boxes and coatings on printed water bottle labels. The clear coatings go over printed products as a protective barrier.

The company has operated out of Gaffney.

  • Phoenix Specialty Mfg. Co. announced in August that it’s expanding its Bamberg County operations.

The company is planning to invest more than $5.5 million and create 35 new jobs over the next three years. The expansion is expected to be complete by 2022.

Phoenix Specialty supplies washers, shims, precision stampings and other specialty products to original-equipment manufacturers throughout the United States. The company serves a variety of industries, including aerospace, agriculture, automotive, energy and more.

The expansion will enable the company to increase capacity to meet growing demand.

In addition to specific economic development actions, Pegasus Home Fashions, a company that announced its arrival in November 2019,  has continued to ramp up operations in Denmark despite the pandemic in 2020. It is growing rapidly.

KinSouth in Denmark, the first company announced by SCA in 1996, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in May. The alliance plans to celebrate with the company.

The county plans to recognize and celebrate the business and industry sector with several events later this year.

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This article originally ran on thetandd.com.

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