Aside from more people and more traffic, there’s one solid indicator of the impact of the influx of people and companies to the Southeast — and the Interstate 85 corridor linking Atlanta and Charlotte through the Upstate — that is a bit arresting to contemplate: the scale of the region’s economic output.
The Southeastern U.S. (including Texas) is the third largest economy in the world, and the “Charlanta” portion alone generates $1 trillion in economic activity each year, according to John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance.
What he and other economic-development experts rely on in making their case for the 10 counties of the Upstate is a range of competitive advantages the area enjoys — among them a comparatively low cost of living, excellent transportation infrastructure and a skilled manufacturing workforce.
But an important reason people and companies are moving here is quality of life.
‘A happy employee is a good employee’
While the transportation infrastructure will always play a significant role for the businesses and manufacturers who call the region home, quality-of-life considerations are increasingly important to those companies as they compete to recruit and retain skilled workers, according to Burriss Nelson, director of economic development for Anderson County.
He said companies consider a range of factors that support a simple truth: A happy employee is a good employee.
“It is critically important to these companies that their employees are happy,” Burriss said. “The quality-of-life issues are a big component of that.”
The competitive advantage the Upstate enjoys compared to neighboring regions is the range of options available to both the companies looking to move here and the employees they rely on, Lummus said.
“Quality of life has certainly emerged as one of the keys to economic development over the last few years,” he said. “It used to be maybe 10th on the list and now it’s probably second or third on the list.”
The region’s natural beauty, geographical diversity and abundant resources like good water and available land are among the reasons the Upstate’s population is expected to grow by several hundred thousand people in the next 10-20 years.
Lummus said this population gain will almost certainly expand the pool of skilled workers companies rely on, which in turn will lure more companies to a region that already has the reputation for a skilled workforce.
That skilled workforce has arguably helped drive the Upstate South Carolina’s industrial and manufacturing engine.
Out of the roots of the area’s textile heritage has grown a renewed, diverse industrial base made up of national and global companies engaged in cutting-edge manufacturing across a range of sectors, Nelson and Lummus said.
One marker of the region’s manufacturing health is the concentration of industrial engineers. Lummus said the Upstate has two-and-a-half times the number of industrial engineers of any other region in the country.
Automotive, aerospace and biomedical firms, among others, are driving innovation and economic growth, he said.
Within these sectors advanced materials are playing a key role, thanks in part to the work of Clemson University and its Advanced Materials Research Lab in Anderson, Nelson said.
Lummus added many of the region’s companies are also leading the way in automation, which creates increasing demand for workers skilled in operating those systems.
In many ways, the Upstate’s success and growth are nurturing a virtuous circle. Companies come here to find skilled workers while quality of life considerations draw more workers who tend to draw more companies.