Residents have say in future of Florence County

May 29, 2024

Multimedia Journalist

FLORENCE — County leaders now have a better understanding of the needs and wishes of the community after holding four town hall meetings across the county where residents provided input, asked questions and expressed concerns to the Florence County Economic Development Partnership (FCEDP).

The meetings began in March in Lake City, Timmonsville, Johnsonville and wrapped up last week at the Florence County Library.

Economic growth doesn't happen overnight. It is the result of strategic planning and the fruition of past and present laborers. It's a continual process. No one knows that better than FCEDP — the team who brought the world's leading battery technology company, AESC, to town. The project is now known as the $3.2 billion project that is bringing 2,700 new jobs to the county.

The public-private partnership has recruited new business and industry for 25 years. There are 31 board members with Rocky Pearce as chairman and Gregg Robinson serving as CEO. Jill Heiden Lewis serves as chairman of the private sector, Florence County Progress.

Lewis said having a strategic plan is critical in business and the reason the private sector (Progress, Inc.) invested in one.

About 50 residents participated last Thursday at the Florence County Library, the final town hall meeting planned for the year. MRB, a firm hired to conduct the strategic planning conducted the meeting, prompted questions, and wrote comments shown on a projector for participants.

"I was thrilled with the engagement of the attendees and the ideas and concerns they voiced. We become a great place to live as a team that strives to make our city standout as e work to continuously grow, thrive and improve," said Lewis.

"Because all this growth that is happening, exploding, we want to be sure it's done right. That's part of it. We take all this information and assemble it into a strategic plan. A lot of things will be developed out of this plan.Committees will be developed to deal with some of these things we talked about, " said Rocky Pearce, FCEDP chairman.

Robinson said hearing from the communities is a vital part of having a vision and a path forward. "You want to strategically identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, your threats. It's getting the input from the community. What do you want? Clearly the community came back in support of manufacturing. They want the big hit. So we got it. Now how do we answer the call of business. We have to make sure we deliver on it. "

He said it's not just a plan but a reboot on where the county needs to focus and apply resources for product and prospect development, community marketing, and the workforce.

"How do we prepare the workforce for the 3,000 jobs coming into us in the next three years. That is a real commitment." Robinson said in addition to AESC, other expansions are taking place around the county including McCall Farms, GE Healthcare and Otis Elevator.

AESC has already hired about 50 employees of the 1,500 planned for the first phase of the project. Robinson said the focus is on reaching milestones of the first $1.5 billion phase.

"When we think about a billion and a half, $900 million of it is building, the rest is machinery and equipment. We've got to have a lot of people that can handle the equipment. We've got to have a lot of technicians, maintenance techs, and individuals that can build the actual plant. We also need people to maintain the equipment."

Florence is off to a good start. Florence-Darlington Technical College has an established Mechatronics program and the partnership is working with school districts to build similar programs where students gain experience for jobs in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.

Mechatronics Integrated Technologies, will be offered at Advantage Academy beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, combining elements of mechanics, pneumatics, robotics and electronics.

"We've identified the things that we need to work on, and certainly one of them is the workforce. Do we have enough to do that, are they trained, how can we keep our young people here involved and employed so they don't have to go somewhere else. It's a great thing to have these issues so that we can fix them and create a better Florence County and city," said Pearce.

The reports are being finalized and the findings will be presented to the board of directors and county council by the end of the fiscal year.

To apply for a job at AESC, visit their employment page at

Audra Grant works in print and broadcast. She enjoys reporting on the Florence community as a multimedia journalist.

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