Plan Update Puts Leadership on Notice

WINNSBORO (April 15, 2016) – As consultants continue their work on Fairfield County’s newest set of long-range plans, County Council during their March 28 meeting received a word of advice during an update on their Economic Development Plan: officially get behind the next Strategic Plan.

“I will point out that that 2010 Strategic Plan was never formally adopted by County Council and that was a real obstacle to implementation,” Crystal Morphis, of Creative Economic Development Consulting, LLC, told Council during her presentation last week, “so one of the key recommendations for this update is for you to adopt it and endorse it and pass it on to your staff to implement it. Without that endorsement from Council, staff and the department was able to move forward really on a limited basis. They accomplished some things in the Strategic Plan, but they really needed the endorsement of this Council.”

Morphis and her firm are working on an update to the County’s Economic Development Plan, while T.Y. Lin International is preparing an updated countywide Strategic Plan. Council voted in 2014 to launch the planning process to help prepare the County for the influx of money expected from fees-in-lieu-of taxes on two new reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, the first of which may come online in 2020.

Fairfield County has some things going for it, Morphis told Council last week. Unemployment is down, she said, and wages are growing. Home values are also growing, she said, while at the same time home prices are competitive when compared to the region.

On the downside, she said, Fairfield County’s population is declining, and with it the labor force. Income is stagnant, while overall education attainment remains low.

“That (education attainment) is a key factor for companies that are considering moving to the area,” Morphis said, “because they want to find a skilled and trained workforce.”


Reviewing her firm’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, Morphis said the county’s key strengths are its location in relation to transportation access (I-77), and in relation to larger metropolitan areas (Columbia and Charlotte). Utilities in the county are also competitively priced, she said.

Key weaknesses, she said, included a lack of direction and overall consensus, which she said an updated Strategic Plan should help address. And while the county is conveniently located near a major interstate highway, she said, the development of additional railway sites would be a “key advantage to this community.”

Long-term poverty, Morphis added, was also a significant weakness in Fairfield County.

“That (long-term poverty) is something that we find in other rural communities,” she said, “but it’s concentrated here and that’s why this economic development strategic plan is very important.”

The projected revenue from the nuclear reactors, Morphis said, presents the county with a golden opportunity.

“You have the opportunity with new revenue to create economic transformational projects,” Morphis said, “and the leadership on this Council is going to be critical in making key investments, especially in infrastructure and economic development.”

The declining population and the difficulty in keeping youth in the county topped Morphis’s list of threats.

“The millennials are now the largest part of the workforce and communities that do a really good job of retaining and attracting those young people will be the communities that are successful going forward,” she said. “Companies go where they can find a trained workforce.”

Morphis also reviewed the county’s “product inventory,” or available buildings for prospective industry. The County has one spec building at present, she said, and recommended that the County consider adding at least one additional building.

“Communities that have quality buildings are those that are getting looked at by companies,” she said. “You do have one building, but it would be good to have more than one, so we do recommend that you take this model that you have started with the spec building and carrying it forward.”

There remain, she said, “a few due diligence items” at the Walter Brown 2 Industrial Park “that would really make that park stand out.” A virtual spec building, she added, should also be added to the County’s Economic Development website.

Target Sectors

Morphis identified four “target sectors,” upon which the County should focus its economic development plans.

“When we talk about ‘target sectors,’ these are the sectors where you would focus your marketing dollars and where your regional alliance, the I-77 Alliance, is focusing its marketing dollars,” Morphis said. “That doesn’t mean you would not accept and welcome other companies, but this is where you’re focusing your marketing dollars.”

For Fairfield, she said, those sectors are: Energy (services that can be provided to V.C. Summer); Advanced Material and Transportation Equipment (to serve the state’s aviation and automotive industries); Chemicals and Food Products (industries strong in Fairfield and Chester counties, she said); and Business Financial Services/Life Sciences (industries with a presence in Richland and York counties, she said).

The 2010 Plan

Reviewing parts of the 2010 Strategic Plan, Morphis said the County, which is still searching to fill the position of Economic Development Director, should also consider creating an Assistant Director for that department.

“It is more work than one person can implement,” she said.

Morphis also said that while the County had budgeted for product development, for incentives and for other economic development spending, “there was no funding in the department for things like marketing or existing business programs,” she said.

Morphis recommended budgeting for marketing, including a business retention and expansion program.

“In a small community like Fairfield, you cannot afford to lose even one company, because it is so hard to recruit a new company,” she said. “I believe that this has been a missed opportunity in this community when you have relied on others for your business retention and expansion program.”

She also suggested that Council consider additional product development funds “to be put in the budget for engineering studies and additional due diligence on sites.”

“I know that you do have some other product development money for long-range planning,” she added, “but this would be for studies that could quickly support projects.”

Morphis also recommended expanding the Economic Development Committee to include more private-sector members, as well as upgrading the office of the Economic Development Department.

“It has been my experience that companies will not invest in communities that do not invest in themselves,” she said.

Internal Marketing

Morphis said the County may also want to consider marketing itself to itself, to combat what she said was the County’s negative image within Fairfield County.

“In everyone that we talked to, there is an undercurrent of negativity internally in this community,” Morphis said. “All of you (Council) present a very positive image to the outside, but internally there’s some public relations work to do.”

That can be accomplished, she said, for little cost using social media and marketing tools. Internal marketing, she said, could be one of the roles for the Assistant Director of Economic Development.

Next Steps

“I would encourage this Council to adopt this strategic plan,” Morphis reiterated. “That was a shortcoming of the last strategic plan. It’s hard for you as leaders to hold your staff accountable to an economic development plan without adequate funding, support and your endorsement and leadership in the plan.”

Morphis urged Council to work with an expanded Economic Development Committee, and to expand the staffing of the Economic Development Department and budget the funds for that department.

But the tallest hurdle, she said, was leadership.

“The main difference in communities that are successful and those that aren’t is leadership,” Morphis said. “I have worked in communities that have inherent assets and they should be prospering, but they’re not because leadership is not pulling in the same direction. And I have worked in communities that have lacked in significant assets and they’re making progress because their leadership has consensus in the community and they’re pulling in the same direction.”


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