Williams discusses trend in economic development during Rotary meeting

The trend in economic development is higher capital investment and fewer jobs, according to an official who works to attract new industries to this area.

Will Williams told the Rotary Club of Aiken on Monday at Newberry Hall that during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, which ended June 30, there was approximately $155 million in new capital investment in Aiken County.

That money created 42 new jobs.

“What we’re seeing nowadays is different than it was 20 years ago, where you had low capital investment and high job numbers,” said Williams, who is the president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties.

The reason why, he explained, is because jobs “are more technology oriented than they were in the past. I’m sure you have read about robotics coming in and AI (artificial intelligence) being brought into manufacturing. Well, that is why you’re seeing less and less jobs being created.”

The trend for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, so far, is similar, Williams reported.

“There are some things in the hopper that could change that to have more jobs and higher capital investment,” he continued. “But with the way things are now, we work real hard (to attract new capital investment) and then slow down, work real hard and then slow down. Decision making by corporations has taken a bit of a change of pace from what we’ve been used to with all the different things going on in the markets now between tariffs and issues affecting the globe.”

Williams also talked about the importance of manufacturing to Aiken County in terms of tax revenue.

“It keeps the home owner from having to pay more taxes,” he said. “For all of you that own your home and live in it, your assessment ratio is 4%. You don’t have to pay to operate the schools. You only pay the debt service on the schools. Industry and business, they pay everything. They pay for the school debt service and the school operations, so having business and industry in the community is valuable.”

In South Carolina, an industry that invests at least $2.5 million over a five-year period is eligible for a fee in lieu of property taxes agreement. Such an agreement is granted by, and at the discretion of, the county where the project is located, according to the South Carolina Department of Revenue.

In 2019, the fee in lieu of revenue in Aiken County is around $15.4 million. The Aiken County Public School District is receiving approximately $9.2 million, and Aiken County is getting about $6.2 million.

The Savannah River Site, “through Congress allocating it, pays Aiken County about $1.6 million in a payment in lieu of taxes agreement,” Williams said.

“We have one industry in Aiken County that pays $1.1 million in property tax and they employ 300 people, so you can see why we need both the Savannah River Site and local manufacturers.”

Williams also reported that roughly 7,800 people are employed in manufacturing in Aiken County. The annual total payroll for their jobs is roughly $440 million.

“Statistics show that for every manufacturing job created there are two jobs created somewhere else in an ancillary business, a convenience store or downtown, somewhere like that,” Williams said.

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