FLORENCE, S.C. -- There are many reasons to be optimistic about the economic growth of Florence County and the Pee Dee in 2018, experts say.

Joe King, the executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said 2017 was a banner year in Florence County.

He said business expansions within the existing industries generated nearly $700 million in new investment and brought more than 1,000 jobs to the county.

“We are always excited to bring new businesses to our area, but staying engaged with and meeting the needs of our existing businesses and industries is an important priority in fueling economic growth in Florence County,” King said.

In a big development for the Pee Dee, an inland port that opened in April in Dillon is expected to boost the region's economy. The $50 million cargo-transfer hub will let trucks and trains exchange thousands of containers of cargo headed for points north along Interstate 95. Southbound cargo could head to the Port of Charleston or elsewhere.

Mike Miller, the president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber experienced a net membership increase of 41 year-over-year.

Miller said he expects to see much of the same in 2018, as more businesses make their way to the Florence community.

“The chamber believes that Florence will continue to see the same pace of growth in the coming year that was experienced the past few years,” Miller said. “The hospitality sector remains strong with food and beverage, lodging, recreation and tourism showing no signs of slowing. Other optimistic signs of sustained growth include stability in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, real estate and education endeavors.”

Miller said downtown development continues to progress, as many local businesses continue to move to the downtown area.

“What’s fueling the growth in downtown Florence is a little different than what’s contributing to the business development near the Florence Center and other I-95 road exchanges,” Miller said. “And that’s a good thing. It is also obvious that progress is going to be seen in surrounding communities as well in the next year or two.”

King said that many organizations in Florence are working together to stimulate the local economy in the best way possible.

“Based on our extensive work with site selectors and potential businesses over the past several years, we expect a lot of activity in 2018,” King said. “The Florence County Economic Development Partnership, Florence County Council and Florence County Progress are fully focused on the things that attract and keep businesses: a great quality of life, educational systems that deliver skilled employees and a business climate that reflects a commitment to continued growth.”

Miller said the goal will be to continue to train, educate and provide skilled workers in the Florence community to attract businesses.

“Now, after a few years of development, it remains critical that we all participate in efforts to train and recruit a ready workforce,” Miller said. “Whether it’s hospitality, service industry or manufacturing business, expansion cannot continue without the availability of trained workers.”

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