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South Carolina Counties Bounce Back from Industry Shifts

Rural cityscape in South Carolina

Richmond Fed leaders recently visited two South Carolina counties on the rebound during a Community Conversations visit to the northern part of the state.

Community Development Manager Erika Bell, who accompanied Bank President Tom Barkin, Regional Executive Matthew Martin and Senior Regional Economist Laura Ullrich on a two-day visit to York County and Chester County in mid-November, said the most notable discovery during their meetings with business and civic leaders was the strategic manner in which economic development has increased in the region following the decimation of its textile industry.

“Chester and Rock Hill were among the largest textile manufacturers in the south – textile was king,” Bell said. “Now, these communities are reinventing themselves. There is a visible evolution, with a rise in new manufacturing and sports tourism.”

Rock Hill’s mayor and city manager shared with Bell, Barkin, Martin and Ullrich some of the early steps that helped position the area for future growth, such as purchasing 30 downtown properties that had become and remained vacant for years when textile mills moved overseas. The city later resold most of those properties to newly launched businesses as part of its downtown revitalization efforts.

The Community Conversations team also learned that the region’s success is due, in part, to the decision to collaborate rather than remain siloed. “Chester County is part of the Charlotte MSA, and leaders count on that proximity to a larger labor force and infrastructure, such as a major airport, when they recruit firms like Gallo to the region,” said Martin, referring to E. & J. Gallo Winery’s recent opening of a massive East Coast distribution center in the county.

During the visit, Barkin also met with the president of Clinton College, a HBCU located in Rock Hill, and the Community Conversations team learned more about the institution’s efforts to help reinvigorate the neighborhood surrounding the campus and to reintegrate the college into the fabric of the community, in collaboration with two other academic institutions, Winthrop University and York Technical College.

“They need more funding to help this initiative succeed, but they have a really good plan,” Bell said.

Rock Hill city leaders also expressed pride over the region’s blossoming sports tourism endeavors, which include a BMX track that served as home to the BMX world competition several years ago; a world-class cycling course, Giordana Velodrome; a softball multiplex; and an indoor multi-court sports and events center.

"It was refreshing to see how both York and Chester counties are creating new opportunities that go far beyond their traditional industry focus,” Ullrich said.

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