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Council hears economic development plan

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By Chris Sardelli

Several County Council members met Monday night to discuss the economic direction of the county.

The majority of council, board members of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. and other county officials met to discuss a strategic economic plan. Commissioned by the development corporation, the plan was developed by InSite Consulting of Greer.

InSite Consulting has previously worked with clients such as the Palmetto Economic Development Corp. and Duke Energy, and has helped attract or worked with Mercedes, Honda and Michelin.

“You have a third of the workforce leaving the county every day to commute to outside jobs,” said Rob Cornwell of the consulting group. “We need to find a way to capture them.”

Cornwell said the goal is to determine how to attract new businesses and keep workers within the county borders.

The 100-page strategic plan was created from information the consulting group gathered during three extended county visits in March and April 2008.

The consulting group met with 70 county leaders, from council members to mayors to business leaders, and developed a profile of the county from the information they learned.

The county has several strengths that can be attractive for new businesses, the consulting firm said. These include the increased growth in the northern part of the county, a strong transportation infrastructure and a growing downtown.

Tonya Crist, also of InSite Consulting, said the most important positive quality found is how friendly and welcoming the community is.

“Folks want to live and work in a great place, and that’s what you have,” Crist said.

The group also evaluated the county’s weaknesses.

Low graduation and literacy rates, limited retail and restaurants downtown and a lack of midscale to upscale homes were all considered threats towards acquiring new businesses.

An important part of implementing the plan will be addressing these problems.

As part of the strategic plan, InSite Consulting also conducted an industry study to see which sectors of business are growing nationally, with plans to target those types of companies.

The consulting firm recommended the creation of a database of area businesses that can be contacted on a regular basis, either by direct communication or through marketing materials, to try and attract them to the county.

Keith Tunnell, president of the LCEDC, said this is the first draft of the plan.

He expects there will be several follow-up sessions with county and local municipal officials before the plan is finalized.  A final copy of the plan is expected sometime in April.

“The county has never had a strategic plan,” Tunnel said. “Now the plan for the county is moving forward.”

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416