Economic development group continues efforts

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By Stan Welch – The Palmetto Area Economic Development Committee (PAEDC) continued their organizational efforts with a meeting Tuesday night at the West Pelzer Town Hall. The group is comprised of approximately a dozen community leaders from the areas of government, business and education, and is dedicated to a wide ranging approach to both jobs creation and community improvement.

Dr. Mack Durham, one of the group’s leaders, explained that while it might be unlikely that the area around and including Pelzer, West Pelzer and Williamston would be the actual site of a potential manufacturing facility employing hundreds of people, it is certainly possible that the Palmetto planning area would be the site where many of those workers would choose to live.

“Much of what we do is concerned with the quality of life in this area as well. For example, there is more than one way to create good paying jobs for people. One is to land that huge company, like BMW or Bosch. But the other is to lift up people and improve their training so that they can get better jobs than they have now,” said Durham. “We want to use both. We want to recruit job creators as well as help people who are working now to increase their skills and their incomes.”

He added that in Georgia, truck driving is the number one job, and soon will be in South Carolina. TriCounty Technical College (TCTC) has a mobile truck driver training program. “One of the things we’ve done is to talk with them about bringing that program to this area for awhile and start training people to qualify for such a job,” said Durham.

Two members of the staff of TCTC, Dr. Gwen Owens and John Lummus, are on the Palmetto Committee, as are local educators. The mayors of the three towns included in the area have given their approval of the group and its efforts.

West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton, who hosted Tuesday night’s meeting, was enthusiastic. “This is a great idea and a very promising approach. It offers several ways for our people to get more services and to improve their futures. I am looking forward to being involved.”

Despite light attendance Tuesday night, Durham had several announcements to share.

He announced that a company called Siemag has located in the Highway 29 Industrial Park and will employ 25 people to begin with. Durham said that committee member and Williamston Town Councilmember Mike Looper had played a key role in recruiting that business.

Marnie Schwartz-Hanley was on hand to announce that the “Chapman House” is reopening as a social services portal to assist local residents in accessing the services they need, such as SNAP (food stamps), Medicare, Medicaid, job training programs, and educational opportunities.

“We are a kind of a one stop shopping location for support services,” said Schwarz-Hanley. “There are a lot of people who have done all the right things who are still either unemployed or underemployed because of the current economy. We want them to know that there is support available and to encourage them to access those resources.”

The Benefit Bank Connection, a statewide system of such sites, is the umbrella organization for the Chapman House, which closed in West Pelzer following the donation of the office’s site for a municipal park. The new office will be located in the Palmetto Family Medical Group Building on Hwy. 20 in Williamston, just across from the Library.