By Betsy Finklea
Dillon County Economic Development Director Tonny McNeil sat down with The Dillon Herald recently to discuss economic development in the county.
McNeil said there was a formula for bringing jobs into any county. He said available buildings, certified industrial sites and skilled workers equals jobs, better quality of life, and an increased tax base. McNeil said in counties that don’t have these basic things, there will be no job announcements.
A key part of attracting industries is having certified sites, and certified sites are very relevant. He said spec buildings are also important because companies relocating or expanding need product that is “ready to go”.
McNeil said when people pass by the big blue and gray signs stating that there is a certified site located there that it is more than just a “pretty sign.” He said this means that all of the infrastructure such as water, sewer, fiber optic, and broadband is in place. Archaeological and environmental studies and 50 year title search are done as well as soil tests, topographical maps, etc. McNeil said there are a large number of details that have already been taken care of in making sure the site is ready.
McNeil said that a master development plan on how roads, stormwater drainage, buildings, etc. relate to each other are developed for each site based on various scenarios.
In addition, McNeil said land option agreements are signed with the landowners and locked in for five years.
McNeil said there is a great deal done up front—these sites are not just dirt and much has been accomplished by having these certified, shovel ready sites. Both the Harbor Freight Tools expansion and the new spec building are being placed on certified sites. McNeil said a great deal of due diligence has already taken place on these certified sites.
McNeil said there are eight goals for economic development in 2013. One of those goals is getting at least $8M in new investment and creating at least 200 new jobs in Dillon County in 2013. He said they have exceeded this goal with 200 jobs and $75 Million Investment with the Harbor Freight expansion. McNeil said they have achieved this, but they haven’t stopped recruiting to bring more investment and more jobs to Dillon County. McNeil said they want every single citizen in Dillon who wants a job to have a job, and he wants talent abroad to be able to come back to Dillon to be able to take advantage of the newly created opportunities in Dillon County.
McNeil said their Economic Development slogan is “Creating Business Opportunities That Last A Lifetime.” He said when there is a person in a situation who has a job and wants better job and is looking for opportunity or if they have been seeking job opportunities for an extended period of time and can’t find work—that’s what the slogan is about. It’s also about creating business opportunities for existing industries, small businesses and new industries that will allow them to grow for many years to come. He said Dillon County Economic Development is very business friendly, proactive and aggressive in recruiting industry. He said if people are looking for a better opportunity he wants Dillon County to be able to offer them a better opportunity and a better life.
A second goal was to construct a 50,000 sq.ft. spec building. He said they broke ground on the spec building recently, and this building will put them at a higher competitive level from an Economic Development standpoint. He said Dillon County will be able to compete for large projects. McNeil believes that if you think small, you get small results, but if you think big, you get big results. He said one has to have spec buildings to be at the table. He said having a new building will help them make larger announcements. “It all starts with available product,” McNeil said.
McNeil said he gets asked many times, “Why Dillon County?” He said Dillon County has many assets that most counties do not have such as I-95, which averages a traffic count of 60,000-70,000 per day. He said Dillon County is midway between New York and Miami. The county is also 15 miles north of I-20 which is a major corridor between Atlanta and Dallas. The county has two Class I rails which is the interstate of rail. Rail is important because when fuel prices increase rail is 4 to 5 times more efficient than shipping by truck. Amtrak stops in the county twice a day every day. The county is 2 .5 hours from four deep water ports and 2.5 hours from four international airports. Dillon County has a low cost of living which equates to a low cost of doing business which means higher profit margins for businesses located here in Dillon County.
McNeil said we have assets such as the Megasite, the spec building and certified industrial sites that make the county competitive and attractive to industry. He said if Dillon County were to land a large industry that employed a thousand people or more, the county could handle it. He said that the pool of skilled and talented people within a 60 mile radius could be pulled as the workforce.
McNeil said there are 30,000 people in Dillon County and 1.5 million people in a 60 miles radius. 800,000 of these people make up the workforce. Of these, 500,000 have diverse manufacturing, distribution and food processing backgrounds while 300,000 have retail, education, or healthcare backgrounds.
A third goal is the development and construction of a workforce development training center. He said a workforce development center is needed to develop technical skills, soft skills, interview skills, work ethics, etc. McNeil said he believes that workforce development is the foundation to Economic Development. He said at a meeting of key economic development and educational leaders in Dillon County, they have begun to discuss the blueprint of how this program would work, and they are working with an architect on conceptual drawings.
A fourth goal was to obtain a 501(c)3 for the Dillon County Public-Private Partnership Board. He said this will provide a supplement to the public site and will complement and support the finances of the economic development office. This has been obtained.
A fifth goal is aggressive marketing efforts. McNeil said he is working on an app for economic development that will be presented to the public later in the year. He said he has been participating in recruitment trips and site consultant visits in various states and countries. He said that microsites are being marketed, and they have a new ad in several economic development magazines promoting Dillon County Economic Development.
A sixth goal has been beautifying interchanges and eliminating eyesores. McNeil said that interchanges are the first and last impression that visitors have of our county as they drive through. He said work is underway to accomplish this goal.
A seventh goal is the development of a medical park. McNeil said this is critical in terms of quality of life. He said the medical community needs an area to expand and grow. He feels a medical park may be of interest to the McLeod community and medical specialist who have patients in Dillon County. McNeil said they have 33 acres that could be expanded to a 200 acre site that would be available for this. He said all due diligence has been done on this site. He said this parcel is owned by the county, and the county could be very flexible in offering incentives and working with the medical community to develop this. McNeil said a medical park would help with job creation, increasing the tax base, and improving quality of life. He said the public would not have to drive to other areas for quality, specialty medical care.
The eighth goal is working on land options with landowners for retail, restaurant and commercial development.
McNeil said, “that without investment there is no return and a people without a vision will perish.”
McNeil said he wants everyone to know that he, the Dillon County Council, the Dillon County Public-Private Partnership, the SC Department of Commerce, Economic Development Partners/Allies and NESA is 210% committed to getting jobs and results in Dillon County. “We are not in the business of making excuses. We’re in the business of getting results,” said McNeil.
McNeil said anyone who has questions or wants to discuss economic development is invited to stop by his office at 101 East Main Street, Dillon, and he will be glad to speak with you.
By Betsy Finklea