Most of the leaders of Laurens County are betting heavily on the likelihood of massive economic growth in Laurens County.
It is inevitable, they say. County Council chairman David Pitts says what is happening is no less than “the tip of the iceberg” that is coming. Council commissioned an infrastructure study to prepare.
The County Administrator, Jon Caime, takes it a step further.
“I’d kind of argue that growth is already here,” he says, citing figures, for instance, from the Laurens side of Lake Greenwood where, since, 2013, building permits have grown from 100 to 250 a year in number and from $400,000 to $900,000 in average value.
Speculative buildings are going up to give small industries ready-made places to locate. Educational curricula are being adjusted to produce a suitable base of trained workers.
Based on the results of the infrastructure study, the county will soon experience “continuous industrial growth coming down the I-385 corridor,” according to the study by Thomas & Hutton Engineering. The goal is to to build infrastructure to get ahead of the growth with forecasts of the likely level of economic activity in 2029 and 2039. Improvements are needed at Exit 19 to the tune of over $14 million. In fact, the study proposes an entirely new interchange, at an estimate cost of $57 million, at Friendship Church Road.
Fountain Inn, the second fastest growing city in the state, is partly in Laurens County. Along most of the border with Greenville County, developers have built subdivisions to the line and are poised to cross. Greenville County growth is more residential than industrial. This county’s growth is more industrial than residential. Industrial growth is more profitable in terms of tax dollars, and a lower cost of living should encourage population growth deep into Laurens County.
People who work at those industries will find greater ease and convenience in getting there from the south.
Main Street Laurens just unveiled its survey and is making plans to enhance the city in a way to make it more attractive to newcomers. Signs have been erected on the interstate highways boosting Laurens and Clinton. That, of course, is only a start.
“The focus I’ve taken has been on quality of life,” says Laurens Mayor Nathan Senn.
At a recent municipal association gathering in Greenville, the chief topic of discussion was, in fact, quality of life, not crime or blight, but positive developments that would naturally minimize such problems.
“What we have to push back against is a pervasive resignation,” Senn says. “This is an opportunity we all seek and a time where we can take advantage of it.”
A commission will soon be appointed to set priorities to put before voters for a penny sales tax in the county.
“What is important is that our cities provide a quality of life that will make the people who work here want to live here,” Caime says. “We need for people who grew up here and moved away to want to come back. We have jobs and opportunities for them.”
Clinton beautified its uptown with a pastoral mural on Musgrove Street. A speculative building has been sold, another is reportedly close and money for a third has been approved. The city is about to break ground on a recreation park close to the Clinton’s biggest natural economic attraction, the confluence of Interstates 26 and 385.
“Clinton has Presbyterian College, which is phenomenal,” Caime says. “To have PC here is a huge asset, and it’s super exciting to see PC move into the health scene with a physicians’ assistant program. “It’s a beautiful, historic town. Clinton is prime-situated in the sense that growth will start coming up from Columbia. Those interstates provide access to Columbia, Greenville, Spartanburg, Asheville and the (Greenville-Spartanburg) airport.”
Construction of a Laurens County Water and Sewer Commission plant will soon provide water from Lake Greenwood, and improvements in utility service on its Laurens County shore are in development.
Linking the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a hiking/biking thoroughfare that may one day may cross the length of the state, through Laurens County is slowly advancing from planning to financing stages.
Money, brick, mortar, employment opportunity and all-important future tax dollars are said to be poised like restless armies on the border with Greenville County and the banks of Lake Greenwood.
Almost everything imaginable is being pondered in order to make the county appealing, whether through appearance, quality of life, attractive climate, learning, training, health, recreation or entertainment.
Laurens County is trying frantically to get ready for the coming boom.
It hasn’t quite happened yet. Recently, plants have actually closed in Clinton and Fountain Inn.
And, take a deep breath – one thousand, one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two – the booming national economy has suddenly slowed. Financial analysts are talking about a looming recession.
In the long term, though, Caime says, “There will be a downturn at some point. Ups and downs are inevitable. We have to do everything we can to be resilient. We’re working toward the diversity that will itself be impactful. It’s like putting your retirement savings in one investment. That’s where we were here when the economy was based mainly on textiles.
“Planning ahead is important, and having sufficient financial reserves in place is important. Whatever happens, and when it happens, means we’ll have to maintain the resources to ride it out.”
The county has a spirited horse and a fine cart. The trick is making sure the horse goes first.