LOWCOUNTRY TEEMING WITH PROJECTS AIMED TO DRIVE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Turn on the news and before long you’ll hear politicians talking about infrastructure.
Take a turn off I-95 in the South Carolina Lowcountry and you’ll see a growing infrastructure corridor, occupied by warehouses, roads and fresh construction for a range of retailers and manufacturers.
Now, turn your attention to the power poles in rural Jasper and Hampton counties. Another type of infrastructure is taking shape overhead: fiber optic cables are being installed to deliver high-speed internet service.
It’s all part of an ambitious plan by two member-owned cooperatives — Palmetto Electric Cooperative and Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative. Their “PalmettoLink” initiative was launched this fall to improve business operations in rural areas while also addressing the “digital divide” that has left many rural citizens with internet access inferior to their urban neighbors.
The three-year, multi-million-dollar effort is reminiscent of the mid-20th Century, when cooperatives took the lead to bring electrification to rural parts of South Carolina and the nation.
“We brought the light in 1940 and we are bringing another type of light today,”’ said Tray Hunter, vice-president of marketing and public relations for Palmetto Electric.
Leaders of the two cooperatives said the importance of improved communications infrastructure is underscored by lessons learned during the COVID pandemic. Working remotely from home has become commonplace and internetsupported education is increasingly important.
“At Palmetto Electric, we believe high-speed internet should no longer be considered a luxury, but an essential service, much like electricity,” said A. Berl Davis, president and chief executive of Palmetto Electric.
Added Jason Dandridge, chief executive of Walterborobased Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative: “The pandemic of 2020 certainly demonstrated the daily need for broadband in terms of educational standards and in business in a timely manner.”
Hunter said work is under way to install fiber-optic cable on Palmetto Electric Lines in rural areas of Jasper, Hampton and Allendale counties. The project is aimed at some 8,000 of the cooperative’s 75,000 members, with an emphasis on those currently lacking efficient internet access.
“It’s not the kind of infrastructure that you can see, but on the economic development side, broadband is a checklist item,” said Hunter. “And we are glad to help close the digital divide.”
The above-ground internet activity comes as the pace quickens for ground-level infrastructure along South Carolina’s I-95 corridor. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lowcountry was ground zero for announcements of new construction and land deals.
The projects are part of an emerging mosaic of warehouses, manufacturers and other businesses expected to drive development and employment in an area from Hardeeville to the Port of Savannah.
• Home Depot said it will add a distribution center – and 14 jobs — in Hardeeville as part of a strategy to expand operations in South Carolina. “We believe this announcement is one of many more to come as companies from around the globe see the benefits of Jasper County in terms of workforce, business environment and proximity to I-95 and major seaports,” said Marty Sauls, chairman of the Barnwell-based Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance.
• Evanesce, a designer and manufacturer of sustainable packaging, said it will create 78 jobs as part of a $17 million investment in Hampton County. Among its products: compostable trays, cups, bowls and straws that decompose in 90 days or fewer.
• The Southern Carolina Alliance said plans were moving ahead to develop the 1,437-acre “Sherwood Tract” in Hardeeville. Plans call for creating a logistics hotbed for warehousing and distribution. The site on Speedway Boulevard is less than five minutes from I-95 and 15 minutes from the Port of Savannah.
• A national real estate development firm said it will lease 164,500 square feet at the RiverPort Commerce Park to TWUSA, a provider of services for cross-border e-commerce business, international trade and chain store retailers. Its partners include FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and DHL.
• State and local leaders said work will soon begin to create Exit 3 in Hardeeville along I-95. The interchange will lead to a four-mile road to intersect with U.S. Highway 17.
Hardeeville Mayor Harry Williams said development in the I-95 corridor is “picking up a lot of speed.” Balancing growth with quality of life and preservation is essential, he said.
“We have prospects almost every day,” he said, noting that the city rejected one proposal because it would have produced truck traffic in a quaint, historic part of the city. “It’s important to define growth boundaries for the preservation of the environment,” Williams said.
State Sen. Tom Davis added:
“You want to bring investment and livable wages to the community. The flip side — especially in the Lowcountry — is to be mindful of the impact on the ecosystem and the lifestyle we value.”