Exploring the factors keying Lexington County’s economic development spree

Posted 3/29/23

Lexington County has made a lot of noise when it comes to economic development of late, with a trio of recent announcements boosting an already positive outlook.

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Exploring the factors keying Lexington County’s economic development spree


Lexington County has made a lot of noise when it comes to economic development of late, with a trio of recent announcements boosting an already positive outlook.

Following a March 14 vote by County Council to approve a $3.6 million property sale and tax breaks to bring a warehouse from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits to an 85-acre site in Saxe Gotha Industrial Park and the March 15 revelation that Mattress Warehouse would be one of two tenants signing on to fill space at the new 803 Industrial Park, another big announcement on March 21 put an exclamation point on an eventful week.

CEEUS, which supplies products to the state’s electric cooperatives, has purchased the 247,000-square-foot Airport Distribution Center located at the intersection of Platt Springs Road and Colite Drive. The site borders CAE Enterprise Park, home to Flex, Harsco Rail, L&L Products, Allied Air Enterprises, Beverage South, and Ferrous Engineering and Tool.

A release from the governor’s office stated that the $52 million investment is expected to generate 61 new jobs.

“Despite economic headwinds, we continue to see strong demand and short supply with leases being executed on speculative buildings either before developers break ground or while they are under construction,” said Chuck Salley, managing director Colliers’ Columbia office, is quoted in the company’s release announcing its lease signings at 803 Industrial Park.

These latest announcements continue a tumult of activity that doesn’t seem to surprise Sarah Johnson, the county’s director of economic development.

She said the county’s ease of transportation is its greatest point of attraction to prospective businesses, explaining that the area has access to three interstates (I-20, I-26 and I-77) and is home to the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, the second largest cargo airport in the state, as well as two Class A railroad systems, Norfolk and CSX.

Lexington County isn’t the only place to see an influx of economic development, with Johnson emphasizing the whole state is seeing more activity than ever before. She said the county has become more aggressive and creative in recruiting companies because the market is getting increasingly competitive.

“We are competing not only nationwide, but globally with our projects,” she said.

Johnson added that some of the key points she talks about when trying to get businesses to call the county home is the quality of life it can provide. She said she mentions the quality of local schools and the scenic attraction of Lake Murray.

She added that employees who come in with these industries become ingrained with other aspects of the economy by shopping and eating at local restaurants.

“When I talk you know whether it's on a professional level, or on a personal level, we know that when companies locate here, they're not just here from a business standpoint,” she reasoned. “They are here from a quality of life standpoint, which now especially post-COVID, quality of life is central. We're looking at attracting companies and retaining talent.”

One of the locations to attract two of those attention-grabbing new businesses is looking to intentionally build on one of the county’s strengths.

According to Frank Murray, director of planning and facilities for the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, the 803 Industrial Park came out of looking for ways to capitalize on the airport’s convenient location in hopes of generating more cargo activity. The park is located next to the UPS hub that is housed at the airport.

Murray told the Chronicle that the airport’s CAE Enterprise Park has also seen growth in the past two years, including an expansion by Palmetto State Armory and the coming addition of CAIF (Concentrated Active Ingredients & Flavors, Inc.).

He said the airport plans on directing its efforts towards attracting aerospace-related industries.

“The upgrade of the Airport’s US Customs and Border Patrol facility in 2023/24 will enhance CAEs potential as a gateway for international cargo, business aviation, charter operations, and maintenance/repair/overhaul flights,” Murray explained.

 Johnson said that each project that county has worked to bring in has had a positive return on investment, explaining that these businesses help diversify the county’s tax base.

She further highlighted that Lexington is labeled by the state Department of Revenue as one of 11 first-tier counties based on its unemployment rate and per capita income.

“I think economic development is at the center of our community,” she said. “It's at the center of infusing jobs for our citizens, helping our citizens thrive in our community, as well as supporting the tax base, supporting our school systems and supporting our local economies, and also our small businesses.”

The biggest challenge the county faces when looking to continue this influx of development is acquiring industrial property, Johnson posited, adding that Lexington is experiencing a lot of success but not making more land. Proactively identifying spots that might house additional industrial real estate is crucial moving forward, she said.

While  looking for new opportunities, Johnson told the Chronicle that the county actively works in expanding and retaining the industries already here. She said that the county’s “bread and butter” is their Business Retention and Expansion Program, which focuses on meeting face to face with existing industries to make sure their needs are met.

“The big piece here is relationships,” Johnson said.

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