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The Economy: County positioned as location for cost savings
By Jackie R. Broach
Though hurting now, Georgetown County may benefit from the economic recession in the long run, said Wayne Gregory, the county’s economic development director.
Companies operating in places such as California and New York, where the cost of doing business is very high, are much more open now to looking at alternate locations where they can operate with less expense — and the county is taking advantage of that.
The county has “always been very aggressive” about trying to lure businesses, but efforts have been intensified in recent months.
“We’re getting out and calling on companies, trying to build relationships while the door is open,” Gregory said. “When things were busy, it was hard to get an appointment with them, but now they’re very willing to listen to how they might be able to save on costs by coming here.”
The problem is most of those who would be willing to relocate to or open new offices in Georgetown County can’t access the capital needed to do so.
“A year ago, they could have gotten their project financed, but not now,” Gregory said.
When the economy revives, he believes those companies will still be thinking about Georgetown County and the financial benefits of locating here.
“People tend to have short-term memories when it comes to economic matters, but in this instance, people are hurting so badly they won’t soon forget this,” he said. “This has been particularly painful for companies to the extent they’re worried about long-term survival. It’s changed their overall outlook, and when things pick back up and we do have money to spend, they will want to relocate to a place where they can operate more profitably.”
One way the county reaches out to companies is through trade shows and other events around the country. The Economic Development Commission works with Santee Cooper, which covers the expenses for those trips. The utility has “a huge stake in” the county’s success in economic development, Gregory explained.
Despite the economy, the county has seen a handful of new businesses open in recent months. Turnstyle Enterprises announced plans to build gate openers at Pawleys Island; Coast, a premium apparel brand, launched this month; and Metal Tech Systems of Pawleys Island expanded, opening a new facility in Andrews.
Existing firms are also receiving special attention these days as Gregory and the county Chamber of Commerce work to help them weather the recession.
“We’re trying to make sure that our local companies have everything they need to be successful,” Gregory said. “If there’s any way we can help, we will.”
Gregory said the commission can help get incentives for expansion, such as lower property taxes through an agreement with the county.
For help in promoting themselves and finding ways to bring in new customers, local businesses can go to the Chamber.
Membership has increased since the downturn, said Chamber president Annette Fisher.
“If you use your Chamber membership the way you can and should use it, you’re going to more than get your investment back,” she said. “We’re really seeing people start to understand that message now, because they’re really looking for ways to encourage growth.”
One service the Chamber introduced this year is the Chamber Business Institute, a monthly series for entrepreneurs. This month, the topic will be women entrepreneurs. In April, the series will focus on using social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, for marketing and promotion.
“These are tools that are out there and they’re free,” Fisher said. “Businesses just need to understand how to make it work for them,” Fisher said.
The Chamber also offers a number of resources on its Web site to help businesses promote themselves inexpensively and Fisher is encouraging members to take advantage of that.
Tourism, one of the county’s main industries, is also being pushed by the commission. During his business trips, Gregory said he always promotes the area as a great place to vacation or establish a business.
“It’s a two-fold mission,” he said.