Ardath Arvidson - Florence Morning News
FLORENCE, S.C. – If Joe W. King doesn’t win you over with his smile or his snappy attire, he is sure to do so with his persuasive powers and enthusiasm for Florence County’s many attributes.
As executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, King enjoys making the deal. For the past 18 years, King’s focus has been to bring new industry to the area and help existing businesses reach their full potential.
He said a lot of pressure comes with the job. It is an arduous process.
“You start working a project but it might be three to five years before you actually get the deal done,” King said.
He said there is a lot of work by the company to make sure it is making the right deal.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, King said.
He said trying to make a deal, trying to find a company to come to Florence, has been his greatest joy. He said there has not been a day in his 18 years as economic development director that he didn’t look forward to coming to work.
“That is because I am doing my job,” he said. “I love my job, and it has been fun. I have been very privileged to be part of a great team.”
King has been involved in the growth of Florence County for more than four decades. He has been instrumental in changing the county’s landscape. During his time as executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, Florence County has seen significant growth economically.
As he prepares to retire, King said Florence County is poised for tremendous opportunity and growth. He said it is time for him to start another chapter of his life.
“I’m not necessarily throwing in the towel, but I think everything has a beginning; everything has an end,” King said. “I think it is time to end this chapter, and the good thing is that I’m ending it on a very high note. With all the properties we have bought, with the relationships we have with developers, with the industrial parks we are developing … and all the prospects we have in the pipeline, the timing is good.”
King said he has been asked numerous times which project he thinks was the most important of his career. His response has always been that they are all important because anytime you are creating a job you are not only helping the individual but you are also helping a family.
“I don’t think there is any greatest accomplishment,” King said. “Every time you create a job or have an existing industry that expands those are accomplishments. It is not my accomplishments but the teams.”
He is adamant that whatever accomplishments or success he has met in his career has been a team effort. King said it has all been teamwork. He said there is no “I” in team.
“In the 33 years in government and 18 years as economic development director all the staff that I have mentored, helped and given advice to, I learned from them also,” King said.
King has considered it a privilege to be able to help the county and its people.
“Anytime you can improve the standard of living for people and bring in higher paying jobs it is a good thing,” King said.
He said Florence has everything a big city such as Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville has except a research university and a football team.
King said the city of Florence has an excellent water and sewer infrastructure, and it has the largest education foundation in the state. It has Francis Marion University, Florence-Darlington Technical College, and SiMT.
He said you have to extol all of these virtues, all the assets, everything you have working for you when trying to recruit businesses and industries.
An example, King said, was about 15 years ago a prospect came to town. King said he knew Florence was not its number one choice. He set up a breakfast meeting to try to persuade the prospect to reconsider. He said by end of the meeting Florence had advanced to the number one spot. Then the person turned to him and asked to see the downtown. He said at that time Florence didn’t have a viable downtown, but it does now.
Downtown is now a big draw, he said.
He said existing industries are a big help, too, in attracting other industries. He said any time you have a Honda, GE or Otis it is a draw.
“We have always been successful when we involve existing industry in the recruiting process,” King said.
He said he will step out of the room allow people to talk candidly to one another.
Florence is poised to take off, King said.
He said several more announcements are expected before the year is up.
“We have what we call a food cluster,” King said. “One of the projects we are on the short list for is food related.”
He said it may be 2023 before an announcement is made.
King also said two spec buildings are going up. The more you have the more looks you are going to get, he said.
He said about 1,000 acres of land is available.
“We knew we had to have property,” he said.
He said if you don’t have something to show prospective businesses they won’t look at you. You have to get their attention. He said they want to have a site ready to go.
He said anytime you can improve infrastructure it is going to be a stepping stone for growth.
King said economic development is a slow process. He said he never takes anything to the County Council unless he thinks it is a good investment for the county and the company.
”We don’t want to go after prospects that pay $8 an hour; we want those projects that pay $20 or more an hour,” King said.
He said that is when you help families.
“I will continue to support this staff and the new director,” he said.
His advice to his successor, Gregg Robinson, is to support the staff, listen to the staff and reach out. He said even though Robinson is a true professional and is sure to do a good job, Florence is different than other communities.
“You have certain players in the community you need to get close too,” King said. “I think he needs to value, appreciate and support the staff that he has.”
King said any time you are a public servant you are blessed. He expressed his feeling by saying he believes the words in the Bible that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
King is a recipient of Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Public Servant of the Year Award.
In making the presentation Francis Marion University President Fred Carter named some of the companies that have either expanded their operations or broken ground in the county during King’s tenure, including GE Healthcare, International Knife and Saw, Wellman Plastics, Steel Fab, Assurant, Otis, Ruiz Foods, Niagara, QVC, Charles Ingram Lumber, Roche, Thermo Fisher, Patheon, ABB, Honda, Pepsi, Clarios (Johnson Controls), W. Lee Flowers, FedEX, ICE Recycling, Performance Foods, South East Express, East Coast Erosion, David C. Poole Company, McCAll Farms, Westrock, Innovative Construction Group, Buc-ee’s and most recently Cheney Brothers.
Carter said these companies invested over $2.5 billion in new investments and created over 12,000 jobs in Florence County.
The list of companies and the investments continue.
“I put my heart and soul in it, and I don’t know how I could have done more,” King said. “It has been fun. It has been very, very challenging, but also very rewarding. I have been privileged to be part of a team that has achieved a lot of success over the years.”
A lifelong resident of Florence County, King was born and raised the oldest of six children on the family farm in the Kingsburg community.
He is a 1973 graduate of Charleston Southern University. After graduation, he moved to Washington and interned for Congressman Ed Young. Upon completion of his internship, King returned to Florence County to begin his career as a farmer and businessman and to raise his family. He became involved with the South Carolina Farm Bureau, and his family was named the 1981 Young Farm Family of the year.
He successfully ran for Florence County Council in 1988 and served 10 years. He was elected chairman in 1991. In 1998, King accepted the position of county administrator and served until 2004, at which time, he became executive director of the Economic Development Partnership.
King and his wife, Suzanne, have four children and a number of grandchildren.