Farmers say new SC agriculture campus a ‘shot in the arm’ for struggling local economy
A recently announced 1,000-plus acre agriculture development in Hampton County has thrilled local and state officials because of the infusion of many new jobs and the boost to the local economy.
On Sept. 2, top state and local officials and the U.S. secretary of agriculture announced a history-making project planned to create 1,500 jobs in Hampton County. The Agricultural Technology Campus is a $314 million investment in an opportunity zone — touted as the largest in the country.
Opportunity Zones are low-income geographic areas recognized by their states as key locations for economic development. Hampton County fits the bill as a predominately rural area with a population of about 19,200 people, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The data also indicate roughly one in four residents in the county lives in poverty.
The Agriculture Technology Campus, deemed the first of its kind, is slated to be built in the Southern Carolina Industrial Campus in Early Branch and be fully operational by 2025. Plans include pesticide-free greenhouses, a 150,000-square-foot distribution center and a co-packing facility.
The campus will be able to grow fresh food year-round, and officials say some of the products will be given to local food banks and sold in local grocery stores.
Since the major project was kept top secret until the announcement, most local farmers say they aren’t sure how the campus will affect their small businesses. But they are cheering the lift to their county’s bottom line — the jobs, tax revenue and use of land that has produced only timber for so long.
IS IT AN ‘ANSWERED PRAYER’?
Bill Harper Sr., farm manager of Solo Verdi Meats in Hampton, said the agribusiness cluster will be a “great shot in the arm.”
“Any industry that can come into Hampton County would be greatly appreciated,” Harper said. “We’re small, but we’re really hurting.”