Tapping into I-77

Alliance Pushes Economic Potential

BLYTHEWOOD – The Blythewood Chamber of Commerce was brought up to date on the new I-77 Alliance on Tuesday by Rich Fletcher, President and CEO of the Alliance, at the Chamber’s monthly breakfast meeting.

The presentation followed close on the heels of a pitch by Richland County’s Director of Development, Lindsay Nelson, at last week’s Planning Commission meeting for the Town to designate a new industrial zoning district for 663 acres in Blythewood. A number of guests attended the Chamber meeting, including Fairfield County’s three newly elected County Councilmen: Marion Robinson, Dan Ruff and Billy Smith.

Separate from the Central SC Alliance for economic development that represents 11 counties, the I-77 Alliance represents only four counties – Fairfield, Richland, Chester and York – all of which border I-77. Initiated in 2013, the I-77 Alliance is a public/private non-profit economic development group devoted primarily to marketing and branding, serving as a front runner for economic development in the four counties.

The fledgling Alliance is currently undertaking three key initiatives that Fletcher said will help jump start the organization’s marketing and branding initiatives: strategic planning, website development and fundraising. Fletcher said the Alliance will go public in February with a new logo with the tag line: “Driving Growth from Columbia to Charlotte.” He said the Alliance’s main focus is to develop leads for economic development in the four member counties. Fletcher also clarified that, “we do not just represent and market the area closely bordering I-77. We market the entirety of the four counties represented. But what we really see is a growth corridor. I-77 is an untapped potential.”

Fletcher most recently handled SCANA Corp’s economic development and local government activities.

“I will be working to enhance the regional business climate for these four counties,” he said. But he said the jobs for an industry in a particular county might go to workers in any or all of the member counties, not necessarily the county that lands the industry.

Fletcher said there are eight economic development alliances in S.C. and all but the I-77 Alliance are dominated by private sector board members.

“We use more public sector board members because it’s about being responsive to the needs of the local community,” Fletcher said.

The four public sector members are determined by their positions: County Council Chairman, another County Councilman, the County Director of Economic Development and the County Administrator.

Fairfield County’s private sector board members include: Doug Payne, Fairfield Electric Cooperative; Bill McMaster, Winnsboro Oil and John Smalls, Carolina Event Center. Richland County’s public sector board members are Norman Jackson, Paul Livingston, Kelvin Washington, Tony McDonald and Nelson Lindsay. The private sector members are John Cadena, SCANA; Ray Jones, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein and a third spot yet to be filled.

Fletcher touted recent success enjoyed by the four counties including the expansion of two industries in Richland County in the last 12 months and three new industries that moved into Fairfield County in the last 18 months.

“Yet,” he said, “we need to bring in more economic opportunity.”

Fletcher said the I-77 Alliance does three things:

1. Brings companies, both domestic and international, that have a market need in the Southeast.

2. Talks directly to site location consultants. He said that over half the projects announced in S.C. are led by paid professional consultants whose job it is to do nothing but represent their clients and find the best sites for them in the U.S.

3. Markets directly to Department of Commerce and other allies and informs them of the assets that exist in the region.

Fletcher said the Alliance’s biggest challenge is that “we need more infrastructure – water and sewer. That is a limiting factor to all of us based along I-77. We don’t have water and sewer infrastructure from the Ridgeway exit (exit 34) all the way up to Rock Hill exit. If we can develop water and sewer on that stretch of the corridor, we are poised for growth,” he said.

Besides fundraising and matching state grants, the group is supported by the following investors:

Platinum ($50,000 over a three-year period): York Electric Cooperative, Springland, Inc., SCANA Corp. Duke Energy, Truvista, Winnsboro Petroleum, Piedmont Medical Center, Comer Distributing and Piedmont Medical Center.

Gold ($25,000 over a three-year period): The South Carolina Power Team, Comporium, York County Natural Gas Authority and York Technical College.

Silver ($15,000): Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein and L&C Railroad,

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