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Foreign companies are flocking to South Carolina, specifically the Charleston Metro region—and Dorchester County is one place reaping the benefits. But the Palmetto State has roots in foreign trade relationships dating back to the 17th century so it’s really no surprise that when looking for the perfect place to setup new headquarters or expand existing operations, internationally-based businesses are drawn to the Southeastern port region, according to industry experts.

“The Charleston region has been doing international trade since 1670,” said John Truluck, director of Dorchester County Economic Development. 

Truluck was one of three panelists invited to deliberate on international industry during Tuesday’s annual Industry Appreciation Luncheon, sponsored by the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce.

A crowd of local industry members gathered at Summerville Presbyterian Church to hear from the economic development authorities, who also included Amy Thomson, director of international strategy and trade for the South Carolina Department of Commerce, and David Ginn, president and CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

“The secret’s out,” Thomson said. “Our state tells us a lot just by the international companies already here.”

More than 1,200 international firms call South Carolina home, according to data provided by Dorchester County Economic Development. Those firms comprise 7 percent of the state’s private industry employment and at least 131,000 members of the state’s workforce. Thomson said the goal of SCDOC is to establish relationships in other countries and tell them why they need to locate to the state. “Our goal is to do outreach globally to get foreign companies to know about South Carolina,” she said.

According to Ginn, the CRDA utilizes a global competitiveness strategy dubbed “One Region” to draw foreign companies to the tri-county market. He said the effort not only seeks to attract international industry but also serves “as the catalyst” for the region “to have long-term and sustainable regional opportunities in all corners.”

“Our community really is no ‘Johnny-come-lately’ to this whole international commerce thing,” Ginn said. “It’s deeply part of our global competitiveness DNA and global competitiveness strategy.” And Dorchester County is helping lead the way with 25 of the region’s 183-plus foreign companies. “It’s an exciting time to be in Dorchester County,” Truluck said.

Most of the county’s foreign industry is in agribusiness, automotive, textiles and marines; and since 2011 has invested in the county about $350 million and created 690 local jobs, according to Dorchester County Economic Development.

“That’s almost 30 percent of our manufacturers,” Truluck said.

With eight total companies, Western Germany represents the majority of foreign industry in the county, according to Truluck. In addition he said of the county’s more than 9,400 manufacturing workers, more than half are employed by international companies; and at least 60 percent of the county’s industry prospects are non-domestic. 

At the top of the county and region’s foreign industries is Robert Bosch, according to Truluck. He said the manufacturer employs about 2,100 people and maintains a worldwide network of facilities “making the most cutting age products that I’ve ever seen.”

“They’ve brought suppliers here…and they continue to grow and invest here,” Truluck said.

He also praised the upcoming ribbon cutting for the county’s first Indian-based company, Sundaram-Clayton Limited, LLC, and how its officials searched far-and-wide to find the perfect place to meet its engineering and religious specifications for its first U.S. facility.

“We always have to be prepared; we have to have a wagon full of product because you never know what the next company that walks through the door would like,” Truluck said.

“We’ve got several things working in our region’s favor, and first is the growth we’re seeing,” he said. “It’s not always popular…but those 28 people a day moving here is the fuel we need to have our existing industries grow. A lot of places in this state and country aren’t growing. …We still have more people coming tomorrow, and that’s part of the solution.”

According to Thomson, no U.S.-based company should be content with domestic clients only. Global growth should be a goal. “That’s how companies grow—finding new clients. Don’t get comfortable with the domestic market. It’s always good to get as many foreign eggs in your basket as you can…so that you have that steady growth and you can hire new employees,” she said. (Credit: The Summerville Journal Scene)