Exclusive: South Carolina Counties Making Headway When It Comes to Attracting Talent

Richard Breen

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

South Carolina is making national progress when it comes to attracting and developing skilled workers.

Lancaster County is the No. 9 small county this year in the Talent Attraction Scorecard, a ranking compiled by Emsi, a labor market analytics firm. Nine other Palmetto State counties made the top 100.

“Counties are ranked using Emsi’s Talent Attraction Index, which is based on drawing new residents, growing jobs and skilled workers, attracting young talent, and increasing educational attainment,” the report states.

The scorecard split U.S. counties into large (population 100,000-plus) and small categories. Maricopia County, Arizona, was the No. 1 large county, while Cameron County, Louisiana, was the top small county.

Among the top large Palmetto State counties, Horry was ranked 26th, York rated 40th, Berkeley was 41st, Charleston was 59th, Greenville finished 63rd and Spartanburg was 100th. Also ranking among the top 100 small counties were Fairfield (53rd), Jasper (54th) and Laurens (79th). Lancaster was No. 10 in 2017.

“Our talent attraction initiatives revolve around the basics that matter so much,” said Rich Fletcher, president and chief executive of the South Carolina I-77 Alliance, an economic development organization that covers Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster, Richland and York counties. “Readily available work in a growing, diverse array of industries and professions, high quality of life and reasonable cost of living are just the beginning.”

York and Lancaster counties are across the border from Charlotte, which is in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Mecklenburg was the No. 10 large county this year, the third straight year it has made the top 10.

Fletcher said he was “pleased but not surprised” by the result.

“Charlotte is an obvious draw for talent and has been for many years, and our northern counties are an integral part of that marketplace,” he said. “The population of our northern counties has doubled in recent decades and we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon.”

Looking deeper into Emsi’s research, Lancaster was the top small county for net migration in 2015-16, with 1,334 more people moving to the county than leaving.

Horry was one of the top large counties in percentage growth in adults with an associate degree or higher between 2013-17. Emsi also looked at overall workforce growth during that time period and found that Berkeley “is seeing growth on both spectrums with a 65 percent growth in Gen Z (age 14-21) and 61 percent growth in boomers (age 55-plus).”

Barry Jurs, Berkeley’s economic development director, said the Lowcountry has great appeal.

“People like Charleston,” he said. “It’s a global destination.”

But he added that a basic element of growth is “having the kinds of attractive jobs that people are looking for.”

Jurs said efforts to increase the skilled workforce include ManuFirst SC, a fast-track program that introduces workers to lean manufacturing, and readySC, a recruitment and training program that’s helping to place workers at the county’s new Volvo manufacturing facility.

“We’re very aggressive in that regard,” he said.

The Emsi scorecard follows a report earlier this year that ranked Columbia No. 2 for attracting millennials. The financial technology company SmartAsset listed the state capital right behind Seattle, whose overall population is more than five times the size of Columbia’s.

“According to Pew Research Center estimates there are around 71 million millennials in America and they are expected to surpass the number of baby boomers in 2019,” SmartAsset reported. “That makes millennials a coveted generation for cities looking to bolster their workforce and tax base.”

In Greenville, the entrepreneur community is looking for additional ways to connect with skilled workers, according to John Moore, president and chief executive of NEXT, an initiative that helps support that region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“This includes helping these types of companies and the talent find each other, as well as attracting more talent,” Moore said. “Attracting talent as well as developing talent is vital to remaining vibrant.”