Originally created 01/03/06

State has no crown jewel

COLUMBIA - As a poor, agricultural state, South Carolina and its farmers struggled to make ends meet in the late 1800s. Then cotton gained steam, and by the mid-1900s fibers woven in textile mills created thousands of jobs that buoyed the state until the final decade of the past century.

Now, South Carolina is searching for a new economic identity.

The latest figures show the Palmetto State's unemployment rate at 7.1 percent, the third-highest in the nation, behind only hurricane-ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi.

"Economic development now is struggling to find its way," said Frank Hefner, an economist at the College of Charleston. "More of the same is not going to work because you can only get so many BMWs."

The German automaker has been held as the state's economic jewel since the company built its first North American plant in Greer in 1992.

BMW's plant formed an economic cluster creating many more jobs than initially expected, but the cluster alone can't sustain the state's economy. Officials hoped other industries would create similar domino effects, such as new missions at Savannah River Site, but those don't compare to the automotive cluster.

State Commerce Secretary Bob Faith said officials are trying to improve the overall business climate, along with traditional and nontraditional recruiting of industry.

The three research institutions - Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research; the University of South Carolina's hydrogen fuel cell technology; and the Medical University of South Carolina's biomedical research - hope innovations cause commercial development and businesses to locate nearby. So far, though, their efforts haven't proved a success.

Economic developments

The South Carolina Department of Commerce began listing its top three economic development announcements each year since 1987. The following list are those that in the Aiken-Augusta area:

Shaw Industries

When: 1993

Where: Aiken

cost: $85 million

jobs: 300

RSR Corp.

When: 1993

Where: Aiken

cost: $60 million

jobs: 185

SKF Automotive Division

When: 1996

Where: Graniteville

cost: $115 million

jobs: 276

Source: South Carolina Department of


Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina

When: 1997

Where: Graniteville

cost: $435 million

jobs: 800

Kronotex USA

When: 2000

Where: Barnwell

cost: $110 million

jobs: 125

Grant Forest Products

When: 2005

Where: Clarendon and Allendale counties

cost: $400 million

jobs: 240


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