Table for Two: Food and Beverage in Oconee County
By Emily Hodge
As the world recovers from the initial impacts of Covid-19, the importance of freight and shipping networks are of higher general interest than, arguably, they’ve ever been before. As the country went into lockdown, online shopping became a lifeline for many American families. Unfortunately, the supporting network wasn’t quite ready for the influx in demand. Many areas of the country experienced shortages in their grocery stores while farmers, conversely, were having to dispose of crops and livestock. As the breaks and weaknesses in the supply chains were revealed, one of the potential solutions for avoiding such shortages and shipping dilemmas is additional sites for the food and beverage industry throughout the country.
Located at a midpoint on the East coast, and within easy reach of markets like Charlotte, Atlanta, and Nashville, Oconee County, SC is an ideal choice for the food and beverage industry. The county has been progressive in preparing industrial sites for future economic growth, with three publicly owned industrial parks with all infrastructure in place, and a fourth industrial park that is utility-owned and located directly on I-85. These parks are each suited for various sizes of food processing facilities, ranging from 50,000 sq ft to 2 million sq ft, with an ample water supply, sewer capacity, and the highly skilled workforce needed in today’s modern facilities. Oconee County’s labor force is exceptionally well-suited to manufacturing companies, with over 20% of laborers working in the manufacturing industry. This represents a number that is 194% greater than that national average.
While location and workforce are incredibly important aspects of any growth plan, a key aspect that sets Oconee County apart is access to neighboring Clemson University and their world-class food, nutrition, and packaging science programs. Clemson works closely with companies like Cryovac, Sonoco, and DuPont to produce high-quality graduates who are career-ready upon graduation. These programs also require or strongly encourage local internships, providing an ongoing talent pipeline to local companies in the food and beverage industry.
When you combine location, site availability, a highly skilled labor force, and existing educational programs that cater to the food industry, it is clear that Oconee County is well-prepared to handle the growth in the food and beverage industry that will likely happen on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic. When evaluating the risks and benefits associated with new locations, much of the risk has already been abated through county planning and the existing labor supply. Simply stated, Oconee County is ripe for the picking.