And the Best Place to Start a Business in South Carolina Is...

The internet is full of lists, from the silly to the serious, and many are about the places we live—fattest states, happiest countries, best city to be single, to own a dog, or to be a cyclist. And of course, when your town shows up on a list, you hope it’s a good list, and not the one about the most polluted cities in America!

Recently, NerdWallet, a web site that focuses on personal finance and consumer protection, posted a list of “Best Places to Start a Business in South Carolina,” and four Upstate cities were in the top ten: At number 10 was Mauldin, Greer was in the number 4 spot, Greenville was number 2, and at number 1 was Seneca.

To get these results, the study looked at cities with a population of more than 7,000 people and 500 or more businesses and measured the business climate (65% of score) and local economic health (35% of score). Six weighted factors were considered—average revenue per business, percentage of businesses with paid employees, businesses per 100 people, residents’ median annual income, median yearly housing costs, and unemployment rate—for a combined score.

Oconee Economic Alliance also landed on Site Selection Magazine’s list of Top Micropolitan Groups of the Year, with $95 million in capital investment and 400 new jobs in 2014.

In addition to those criteria that are based on census data, Richard Blackwell, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance, mentions several other advantages that make Seneca and Oconee County attractive for business. Proximity to Clemson University provides a ready and steady customer base for local eateries and other businesses, and the pool of graduates provide an educated workforce for local industries.

Oconee County is bordered by Lakes Keowee, Jocassee, and Hartwell, and 30% of its land mass sits in Sumter National Forest, providing plenty of opportunity for water sports and outdoor activities, and those outdoor enthusiasts support tourism, one leg of Oconee’s three-legged economic stool. Says Blackwell, “We have worked hard to get the message out that we’re more than hiking and boating, although that segment of the economy is thriving.”

The other two legs are industry and agribusiness. The county has about 700 farms with very up-to-date technology, producing nearly $80 million in crops and livestock, according to census data. Blackwell points to a partnership between local agribusinesses and schools as a way to get kids interested in farming as a career, and plans to start an Oconee chapter of the South Carolina Young Farmer and Agribusiness Association are underway.

Out of a 32,000-person workforce in Oconee, about 6,000 are employed in the manufacturing sector, ranging from Borg Warner, which employs around 700, to mid-sized manufacturers such as Johnson Controls, to small automotive support businesses that employ 10–20 people. Greenfield Industries broke ground last year on an expansion to bring TDC Industries, a sister company, to Seneca, adding another 38 jobs.

On the retail/eatery front, a $30 million private development expects to break ground later this year on 300-350 thousand square feet of commercial and restaurant space on Highway 123, a major thoroughfare on the way to the lakes and a mile or so away from Clemson.

Last summer the county held a small business fair to give small businesses the tools to be successful, and other one will be held this July. “While it would be nice to get the next BMW, there’s no real need to focus on big industry,” says Blackwell. “If each small business added one employee, we would eliminate unemployment.”


Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina.