Agriculture tech campus in Hampton County brings jobs to SC

A new 1,000-plus acre Agriculture Technology Campus planned in Hampton County is expected to create more than 1,500 full-time jobs by 2025, Gov. Henry McMaster announced Wednesday.

The $314 million investment is one of the largest agricultural investments in the state’s history, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says it is the largest Economic Opportunity Zone investment in the country to date.

“I’m delighted it involves agriculture and feeding everyone,” Perdue said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for the Lowcountry of South Carolina.”

The agribusiness cluster, which will not only grow fresh produce but also pack and distribute it, will be part of the Southern Carolina Industrial Campus in Early Branch, which has attracted more businesses to Hampton County in recent years. The campus is a few miles off I-95.

Hampton County is predominately rural, with a population of about 19,200 people, according to 2019 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The estimates also say roughly one in four residents lives in poverty.

“This gives us the opportunity to change the rhetoric,” Hampton County Council Chairman Clay Bishop told The Island Packet. “We’ll no longer be known as the ‘Corridor of Shame’ because now we’re part of the ‘Corridor of Fame.’ Hampton County now has the opportunity to change its economic structure and quality of living.”

He said the positive impacts will extend past Hampton County into nearby counties such as Allendale and Bamberg, giving people in the region an opportunity to work closer to home — and make more money.

Bishop said additional industries are already looking in the area because of Wednesday’s announcement and there’s “a lot of big things on the radar.”

The project is a joint venture among four major agribusinesses: Mastronardi, Clear Water Farms, LiDestri Food and Drink and GEM Opportunity Zone Fund.

Among the plans: greenhouses that will produce locally grown, pesticide-free produce, including tomatoes, leafy greens, and blueberries; a 150,000-square-foot distribution center; and a co-packing facility.

The S.C. Department of Agriculture says it has been exploring options for “Controlled Environment Agriculture” — a technology-based approach to indoor farming that allows growers to minimize space and conserve water while in a controlled climate — for the past three years. The goal is to boost the the state’s economy by creating jobs and offering opportunities to farmers, including access to the packing facility.

The Agriculture Technology Campus is projected to be operational by 2022 and increase total economic output in Hampton County by $7.4 billion over 15 years, an economic impact study commissioned by the SCDA showed.

S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers called the investment “transformative,” saying a project this large will conserve natural resources while providing residents more chances to buy local produce.

“This is how you do it,” McMaster said, crediting the project’s fruition to “all of the assets the state has.”

He highlighted how large the state’s agriculture industry already is, saying there are more than 25,000 farms that, combined, cover 4.7 million acres — equal to almost a fourth of the state’s 20 million acres.

The industry already accounts for almost 247,000 jobs and $46.2 billion in annual economic impact, according to the SCDA.

“We’ve got everything we need for great success and happiness for our people,” McMaster said. “All we got to do is educate them, think outside the box, be innovative, and work with each other.”

State Rep. Shedron Williams, who previously served as Hampton County Council chairman, echoed those sentiments.

“This project came to life because of unity, not division, many people working together,” Williams said. “We have seen leaders sit back and make defensive trenches for advancements, and then there are times when our leaders build bridges to make things happen for success.”

Local leaders, including those from Hampton, Jasper, and Beaufort counties, as well as state officials attended in the in-person announcement, which was kept top secret until the event.

The Southern Carolina Industrial Campus is a newly developed 1,369-acre industrial site, according to the SouthernCarolina Alliance’s website. Among the businesses on the campus: a Nupi Americas warehouse and production facility; a commercial laundry plant, Carolina Textile Care LLC; and a planned $30 million CBD facility, Yield Scientific.

Lana Ferguson typically covers stories in northern Beaufort County, Jasper County, and Sun City-Hilton Head. She first joined The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette in 2018 as a crime and breaking news reporter. Before coming to the Lowcountry, she worked for publications in her home state of Virginia and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she was the editor-in-chief of the daily student newspaper. Lana was also a fellow at the University of South Carolina’s Media Law School in 2019.
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