Lack of trust results in economic development mess
No matter how you look at it, the county economic development situation is a mess. And trying to follow the trail of money and decisions is maddening.
Economic development on the county level came screeching to a halt in December after the Barnwell County Economic Development board deeded all of its assets to Barnwell County's three largest municipalities. The board members' reasoning was to "protect" those assets from county council members they did not trust after they learned of back-door dealings and secret meetings to effectively dismantle the EDC.
The towns received $14 million in land and cash, but that may be short lived.
The EDC board fired its director and assistant director, without cause, so a five-year buyout clause in their newly written employment contracts would kick in. Again, the EDC members said they were trying to protect their employees. The director and assistant director were paid $475,068 and $175,817, respectively, but their windfall may also be short lived.
A SLED investigation continues to look into the situation.
Since all this began, county council has been scrambling to get those assets back under its control, without success thus far.
On Monday, March 10, Barnwell County filed suit against the former EDC director, assistant director and most of the board members, asking a jury to grant their assets back to the county, possibly with additional damages being levied.
The council has also been in negotiations with the municipalities to regain other assets. But the municipalities want a stronger presence and more control on a future EDC before returning any assets. The county stated in the current lawsuit that if it doesn't get what it wants, it may sue those municipalities for the money and property.
The whole mess has been caused by a lack of trust.
In the meantime, economic development has halted with the exception of any ongoing projects by SouthernCarolina Alliance, a six-county economic development organization.
In the last three years there have been a lot of announcements, but few actual jobs have materialized in Barnwell County. At least one industry started operations only to shutter its doors a few years later.
In the past two years, not one new industry has been convinced to plant itself in Barnwell County.
As news of the EDC board giving assets to the towns, and county council recalling all EDC board members spread across the state and region, it's a safe bet anyone who was looking has now looked elsewhere.
And all those assets are being tightly held until a resolution can be determined - most likely in the court system - which is never a quick process.
So, we're stuck.
There is no one doing economic development solely on behalf of Barnwell County.
Barnwell County has been called a "hard sell" for economic development in the past because we have no rail lines, no direct port access and no interstates. Those challenges, coupled with the current in-fighting and legal actions, just made the effort a lot harder for the next chosen ones to "sell" Barnwell County to the next industry looking.
Companies like to come to communities where they see potential growth. They want a place where local governments are supportive and unified. They want land that isn't tied up in lawsuits. They want to be proud of the place they can call "home".
Right now, that isn't happening in Barnwell County.
Barnwell County needs jobs. We need economic growth.
Maybe a new set of thinking needs to happen.
Is there incentive money and/or tax savings available (and not tied up in the courts) for smaller businesses or existing industries who are struggling but are still employing Barnwell County residents? Are there properties which are not in litigation that can be shown to prospects?
Who can the people of Barnwell County turn to and trust to act on their behalf?
|Barnwell 45 District||Visit|
|Barnwell City Website||Visit|
|Barnwell County Arts Council||Visit|
|Barnwell County Chamber of Commerce||Visit|
|Barnwell County Government||Visit|
|Barnwell County Library||Visit|
|Barnwell County SC Virtual Museum||Visit|
|Big 7 Association||Visit|
|Blackville Municipal Website||Visit|
|Blackville-Hilda School District 19||Visit|
|CodeRed Alert System||Visit|
|Edisto Research and Education Center||Visit|
|JDA - Jefferson Davis Academy||Visit|
|Salkehatchie Arts Center||Visit|
|South Carolina National Heritage Corridor||Visit|
|The Circle Theatre||Visit|
|Thoroughbred Country – Regional Tourism Organization||Visit|
|Town of Williston||Visit|
|Williston-Elko School District 29||Visit|
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