MARION, S.C. – Marion County Progress Inc. celebrated the year during its Economic Outlook Dinner at the Academy for Careers & Technology Thursday.

Marion County Economic Development Director Julie Norman shared highlights on the past year which included record low unemployment.

“I everyone that attended to know that we have accomplished some great things in Marion County in the past year,” Norman said. “We have more good news to share in 2020. Things are looking up and we’ve come a long way and we got a lot to be proud of.”

Norman said she was happy to see the crowd and called them part of the team.

“Things were quite different in Marion County in 2019,” Norman said. “We had a banner year. We have five announcements. The most of the any county in the nine counties in the NESA (North Eastern Strategic Alliance) region. Thirty-six percent of the new companies that located to this region, located in Marion County.”

Those announcements include Maxwood Furniture Inc., Tie & Timber Technologies LLC., MobileFleet Inc., Sopakco’s $12.5 million expansion, Cardinal Solar LLC. and just recently Pee Dee Extractors.

Norman said it’s important to have more available sites. A sale is pending for the new 100,000-square-foot speculative building at the Marion County Industrial Park.

“We need more buildings and three of our existing companies are in need of new space,” she said. “That is a critical element of economic development.”

Norman also said workforce development is important. Unemployment has dropped considerably since 2009, she said, leading to new approach involving unique strategies.

Norman launched a partnership with Groupe Beneteau last month for a pre-employment training program called Beneteau Tech,” she said.

“We had 85 people go the open house and they had eight people selected for the first Beneteau program,” she said. “Now we know we got the right people with the right skills.”

Norman said the program is expanding.

Director of Integrated Rural Strategies for the South Carolina Department of Commerce Peggy McLean was the speaker for the event, sharing information on the South Carolina Rural Initiative.

McLean served as Kershaw County’s Economic Development Director since October 2011 and took on the new role at the S.C. Department of Commerce in September 2019.

“Our goal with the Rural Initiative is to have positive impacts in our most rural counties,” she said. “Our first step is to visit with the communities where we’re going to be working. We want to hear what you have to say.”

McLean said the meetings discussed challenges and what to do to make a difference in the county looking forward.

“That’s where our efforts are going to be aimed,” she said. “What we can do to help you, create the most effective change in your communities for the next 10-to-20 years?”

McLean said working together is important in a small rural community along with creating a vision.

“If you don’t have a guide you never know where you’re going to end up,” she said. “That vision is so very important.”

Norman said the meeting celebrates the accomplishments.

“We look forward to have we have on the horizon for 2020,” she said. “Our guest speaker is also heading up a rural initiative our county is going to be a part of and wanted to share that with them.”

Born in Atlantic City; raised in Mullins. Graduated from SC State University, home of the mighty Bulldogs. Editor of the Marion Star & Mullins Enterprise. Loves spending free time with his daughter. Huge sports fan.

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