Chester County in South Carolina has remained a hidden treasure for some time, but it’s quickly gaining recognition as an attractive destination for a growing roster of forward-thinking companies looking to leverage the I-77 region’s dynamic economic growth.
Situated as the southernmost county of the Charlotte metro area and conveniently close to the state capital of Columbia, this location affords Chester County access to a labor force of roughly 1.4 million people. A massive labor pool that also has grown by eighteen percent (18%) since 2012 versus the nation’s rate of six percent (6%) during that time.
The swift expansion and diversification of Chester County’s industrial base is building the case for the moniker: “South Charlotte’s Innovation Corridor.” Key sectors driving this growth include advanced manufacturing operations; professional, scientific, and R&D services, as well as information technology.
The growth has been consistent for over a decade and yet the momentum is still picking up speed. Chester County’s manufacturing industry saw employment jump 70% from 2010-2020, fastest among the eleven counties in the metro Charlotte region, and second fastest in South Carolina. And yet since 2020, the county has landed 27 new announcements representing more than $2.5 billion in pledged capital investment and more than 1,400 new jobs.
Here are some recent highlights:
- Charlotte-based Albemarle Corporation will invest at least $1.3 billion and create more than 300 new jobs at an 800-acre site expected to produce approximately 50,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium hydroxide to support the surging demand for electric vehicles and other energy storage applications. This operation will demand highly educated engineers and scientists and speaks to the region’s amazing pipeline of higher education graduates.
- IKO is investing $363 million to create 180 new jobs and its first South Carolina operations for the global maker of roofing products. An existing facility will be remodeled to produce fiberglass and a newly constructed 325,000-square-foot plant will produce fiberglass mats to be used at the Canadian company’s U.S. shingle factories.
- E. & J. Gallo Winery is investing $423 million in capital investment to create nearly 500 jobs at the California company’s first East Coast operation for manufacturing and distribution.
- Kuester Commercial, a leading suburban Charlotte real estate brokerage and developer, just announced plans to buy and redevelop two century-old department stores in historic downtown Chester, the county seat. The $3.4 million investment will result in new commercial and retail space, as well as apartments.
Residential Reasons To Make The Move To Chester County
These exciting renovations are expected to help spark more revitalization of the old mill and farm town of Chester, much like what has happened in the county’s northern neighbors as the explosive Charlotte growth continues moving south.
Overall, not only is Chester County leading the region’s manufacturing growth, but it likely will be South Carolina’s fastest-growing county over the coming years. The housing boom has begun. Five new developments totaling 3,000 homes have been approved, for example, and two of them are already under construction.
Those who choose to live here enjoy a low cost of living, expanding housing options, and a lifestyle that’s small-town and rural yet close to uptown Charlotte and downtown Columbia and all that those major metros have to offer in terms of education, culture, sports, dining, and entertainment.
Outdoor opportunities abound as well, with two bucolic state parks, lakes, rivers (including the recently re-opened stretch of whitewater on the Catawba River), golf courses, and even a skydiving operation at the local airport for the particularly adventurous.
A Business-Friendly Infrastructure Connects Chester To The World
The incentives for locating in Chester County include business-friendly tax and permitting processes and programs, a nationally recognized technical college and specific job-training ecosystem, and transportation infrastructure that gives companies here easy access to national and global markets.
For instance, nearby Charlotte Douglas International Airport offers direct flights to Toronto, hometown of IKO and its global network of 35 manufacturing facilities. I-77 itself runs from Columbia north to Cleveland, Ohio, and closer to home, provides easy access to I-85 and I-20. The Port of Charleston is about a three-hour drive to the south, and two major railways serve the county.
In fact, Chester County is in the unique position of having a long-established short-line railroad, the L&C Railway, that connects with both Norfolk Southern and CSX. Industrial clients often save 20% to 30% on rail freight costs by not being captive to one rail carrier. That was a significant factor in Gallo’s decision to come here.
South From Charlotte, North From Columbia, Sited Just Right, And The Time Is Now
Chester County is in an enviable position with growth moving south from Charlotte and north from Columbia. The former has been ongoing for years and the latter is suddenly being supercharged by Volkswagen’s announcement that its new Scout division will build an electric SUV and pickup assembly plant just north of the capital city, pledging to hire 4,000 workers at the plant.
There’s still room to grow and time to act in Chester County. “We can see our community and the whole I-77 corridor in South Carolina growing quickly into the new I-85, like we all see from Charlotte to Atlanta,” said Robert D. Long, CEcD, Director of Chester County Economic Development.
“We still have the affordable land and infrastructure in place and available to fit nearly any plans for manufacturing and distribution operations,” Long said, “and quality of life that only comes with an area so rich with small town and rural living options and outdoor recreation offerings.”