The Next Big Thing?


It’s funny to think back just a few years, when economic uncertainty was all around us and it seemed like even the most learned experts were working with a hazy crystal ball. Fast forward through a pandemic and a few bumps in the road, and Beaufort County seems poised to flourish. 

At least, we’d better. With a steady population growth of around 2,500 a year over the past few years, driven by a national trend toward the Southeast, Beaufort County’s population growth has certainly not slowed. 

“The census growth alone over the last 10 years speaks to the economic vitality of our area, compared with other areas that are losing population,” said John O’Toole, executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation. “A lot of business owners (in other areas) are feeling squeezed out by policy. South Carolina is very attractive to them.”

With a larger population comes the need for more opportunities. Fortunately, this past year saw a few of the most promising opportunities we’ve seen in a while. 

“One of the larger developments we’ve seen was the speculative building out in Beaufort, which had 64,000 square feet of commercial industrial space, and it was leased within two months of its certificate of occupancy,” said O’Toole.

That’s just one of the projects launched or announced in the past year that O’Toole points to as bright spots in our economic present. Beaufort’s Southern Carolina Landing Pad has already provided a home for SkyDrive, a Japanese firm looking to launch two-passenger drones by 2025. RxIndustries launched a full-service CNC shop on Hilton Head representing a $9 million investment. Watterson Brands has continued to invest in the area, putting nearly $27 million into a new entertainment complex and brewery. 

“These are the kinds of projects that make a splash,” said O’Toole. “But we’ve announced more than $250 million in investments and thousands of new jobs over the last five years. We’ve been able to boost a lot of smaller projects that bring in jobs without disrupting the Lowcountry environment, which we all value.”

Looking forward, O’Toole sees the rise in remote working continuing to make our area an attractive choice for businesses in a host of different sectors. But it’s the workers already trained here that might lead to the biggest boom. 

“I’ve met with several large companies out of New York City and New England looking to bring tech jobs to Beaufort County,” he said. “We’ll continue to see a focus on that since there has been a real focus from the school districts, the Beaufort Digital Corridor, TCL and USCB to create centers of academic excellence within this area. It creates a talent pipeline that fuels economic development.”

Statewide, from September 2021 to this September, nonfarm jobs were up roughly by 90,000, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce.

O’Toole also points to our abundance of recently retired or separated Marines as a huge resource for companies looking to relocate. Without going into specifics, O’Toole hints that the Department of Defense is aware that our area produces more than 2,000 highly qualified Marines every year. 

“Between the things we’re doing with long-term residents and separating military, we’re going to continue to be a choice for the remote worker, but we’ll also be a choice for that privately held company where ownership is frustrated with the business climate elsewhere,” he said.

The crystal ball has become a little clearer in recent years, and all signs point to a brighter future.

By Barry Kaufman