May 30, 2012
County ‘positioned very well,’ says Commerce official
The article below originally appeared in the Camden newspaper, The Chronicle - Independent.
By MICHAEL ULMER
C-I (Camden, S.C.) staff reporter
Ford Graham, director of international investment for the S.C. Department of Commerce, provided insight on the local and state economic outlook during the Kershaw County Committee of 100’s annual meeting Friday.
The Committee of 100, compromised of local business leaders and political representatives, was established in 1986 to help enhance economic development in the community and provide support for the county’s Economic Development Office.
Graham, a Camden native, said the Palmetto State is making strides economically, while also garnering accolades from organizations throughout the nation.
“It’s been very busy for us at the department of commerce,” Graham said. “Other people are recognizing that South Carolina is doing the right thing. We’ve won several awards and continue to be recognized in trade magazines across the country, most recently in the Wall Street Journal, for our economic development activity.”
He explained economic progress is also connected to collaboration with neighboring states.
“As you would imagine, we do a lot of things with our competitors -- Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee -- those are the ones we work closely with. South Carolina doesn’t have a big city. We don’t have a Chicago. We don’t have a New York. We don’t have a Los Angeles. So we’re not the first name that people think of when they think of the United States. So it’s really safety in numbers to promote our region of the country by teaming up and going to different events,” Graham said.
Graham, recently named head of commerce’s European Office in Munich, Germany, said the state is working to strengthen its relationship with European companies, particularly German manufacturers.
“Our ties are strongest with Germany. BMW is a huge driver of that,” he said. “What’s interesting about the BMW phenomenon in the Upstate is that there were a hundred German firms in the Upstate area long before BMW came. That was all because of textiles because the Germans were providing equipment to textile companies for manufacturing.”
Graham said that, despite concerns over the struggling European economy, companies in the region still have funds to invest in other markets.
“One of the interesting things about all the influx of European manufacturing into South Carolina and the Southeast in general is that the euro has been so strong. But people are saying, ‘Ford, why do you want to go to Europe and why is it such a focus for you when the economy is down and Greece is about to bail on the euro?’” he said. “The companies in these countries have actually been sitting on cash for quite awhile. Because the European markets are slow and flat and because the companies have the money, they’re looking to diversify. They’re looking to put footholds in North America or China or Africa.”
Graham indicated that while South Carolina has made progress with investments from several European countries, the state is lacking in involvement with others, particularly the United Kingdom (U.K.), France, and Italy. He noted that involvement with other nations was perhaps a sign that those countries weren’t fully aware of the industrial capabilities of the state.
“We’re not getting our fair share from the U.K. and we’re not getting our fair share from some other European countries,” Graham said. “But I think that if they knew our story, if they heard about it and thought about South Carolina …we’re a small state so they don’t necessarily have that message yet.”
As far as economic development on the county level, Graham said he believed Kershaw County is “positioned very well.”
“The fact that you’re so close to Columbia, and I know you don’t want to hear that, I didn’t like to hear that either when I was younger growing up here … but that’s important because you’re so close to an airport. Also, for the international companies, being close to Charlotte is huge. It’s great for South Carolina and it’s great for Kershaw County,” he said.
Graham noted the county also has a particular advantage in the state because it’s “a great place to live” and full of friendly, hardworking people.
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