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Development Board Applauds Passage of Penny for Progress

November 13, 2008

Sumter Development Board officials say the passage of the Capital Projects Sales Tax will help Sumter County win projects, create jobs and lure capital investment. The referendum, which allows the County to impose a 1-cent sales tax for seven years to pay for 16 community improvement projects, narrowly passed in the Nov. 4 elections. 

Development Board Chairman Greg A. Thompson said passage of the “Penny for Progress” will make Sumter County more competitive for economic development projects. 

“This isn’t some magic bullet that will immediately result in more jobs or investment, but it will help even the playing field between Sumter County and some of our competitors,” Thompson said. “In the long run, we believe this will be an incredibly important investment in Sumter County’s economic development products.” 

Of the 16 projects in the referendum, four were explicitly for economic development,  designed to prepare land and sites for industrial development. Those four projects are: 

1. Widening a portion of North Wise Drive in the Black River Airport Industrial Park, and adding four new lanes, linking the park for the first time to the Sumter Airport. Total project cost: $1 million; 

2. Extending critical water and sewer infrastructure to the Sumter Airport, which has more than 150 acres of publicly owned land with direct runway access set aside for future industrial growth. Total project cost, $1.6 million; 

3. Extending water and sewer to the Pocotaligo Industrial Park on US 521 South, including a 500,000-gallon elevated water tank. Total project cost: $2 million; 

4. Constructing the city’s first new water plant in 16 years, to be constructed somewhere south of town, opening the area to future growth. Total project cost: $8 million. 

Development Board President & CEO Jay Schwedler said this $12.6 million investment in economic development infrastructure will likely be made in the next couple of years. He said it would have taken 10-20 years to see this kind of investment on a piecemeal basis. 

“There is always a return on investment in economic development products. The only question is how long does it take,” Schwedler said. “Even in the short term, even before the first dirt is moved, it shows prospects that your community is serious about growth, and wants their business. Communities that refuse to invest in themselves aren’t likely to convince anyone else to invest in them, either.” 

According to Sumter County officials, work has already begun in drafting the sale of bonds to get many of the projects underway quickly. The additional penny in sales tax will be implemented in May of 2009. 

Thompson said he credits the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission formed by Sumter County Council as well as a marketing committee that solicited private sector funding and crafted a comprehensive advertising campaign to promote passage of the referendum. He also praised the Sumter Smarter Growth Initiative, the Development Board’s private-sector arm, which was a major funding source of the marketing campaign. 

“But no one deserves thanks more than the voters,” Thompson said. “This tells me the people of Sumter County will not settle for a mediocre economy. It tells me our people believe in Sumter County and are willing to sacrifice to make this community better.”

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