Spotlight on Laurens County: Rapidly rising wages are just one of the signs of growth
By Dustin Waters
Leading the Upstate in percentage wage growth and being nationally ranked among counties with rising real GPDs, Laurens County is on the cusp of major development. Now the challenge lies in managing the growing pains that come along with such success.
Between 2008-2017, wages in Laurens County soared by almost 60 percent—almost double the amount of wage growth seen among top competing communities in the Upstate. Now Laurens is nearing the $1 billion mark in total wages. A major player in that role is the area's manufacturing industry.
Bolstered by the regional powerhouse that is the Upstate's automotive sector, around 50 percent of Laurens County's manufacturing production is related to this industry. In recent years, ZF Transmissions Gray Court, LLC —the county's largest employer—has reached full production and continues to grow. But this doesn't mean that those guiding economic development in the area are willing to rely solely on a market.
"We kind of pride ourselves on having, not necessarily smaller announcements, but I'd rather have 10 companies with 100 employees than one with 1,000." says Jonathan Coleman, executive director of the Laurens County Development Corporation. "We've had our fair share of companies that might not move the needle regionally, but they make an impact here with anywhere from 50 to 150 employees. It just continues to grow."
According to Coleman, Laurens County takes a two-pronged approach to promoting workforce development in the area. Working closely with local schools and technical colleges has helped cultivate a pipeline for local workers. Whether it be students looking for careers in mechatronics, healthcare or whatever path they choose to take, the Laurens County Future Scholarship is available to all local high school graduates. This program provides students with two years of tuition-free education at Piedmont Tech.
In Clinton, Presbyterian College continues to develop the school's offerings in the medical field. In addition to an already established pharmacy school, Presbyterian College is also starting a physician's assistant school and a doctorate program in occupational therapy. The creation of this medical cluster is sure to attract a new type of student population to the small, liberal arts school and the greater Laurens area.
Looking beyond their borders, Laurens County has also partnered with the Upstate Alliance to recruit new talent into the area. This effort has mainly focused on highlighting the quality of life of the region in order to grow the working-age population base in the area.
In addition to having the largest percentage wage growth in the Upstate, Gordon says Laurens County ranked second in the country for real GDP growth from 2012-2015. What all this success means for the area is one thing: change.
"For Laurens County, we're poised to grow substantially over the next five to 10 years. And when I say grow, I'm talking really changing the county—almost changing completely the way it is," says Gordon.
For Gordon, now is the time for Laurens County to pay careful attention to how it plans to expand local infrastructure to meet the needs of these growing industries. A major investment will be needed to ensure that Laurens continues to be an attractive destination for businesses, as well as a comfortable home for workers.
Also required will be a strong understanding of the area's current set of strengths and a clear vision for its future.
"I think we're going to see some pretty substantial growth and one of the things that comes with that is some growing pains," says Gordon. "There is going to need to be some infrastructure upgrades and some things done to keep up with that growth, especially with road construction and just some overall planning so we control the growth. We do it smart and we will be able to retain the quality of life that we have currently. But that does take some planning and some vision."