Economic Transformation in Rural Berkeley County

By: Brent Jonas

Over 7,000 miles and a sizable language barrier separates Hengshui, Hebei, China and tiny St. Stephen in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina. But this did not prevent the leaders of the two communities from connecting through the shared language of economic success.

On May 12, 2016, they announced that Viva Holdings Group, a combination of Moncks Corner-based VivaSC Recycling; and Zhang Baofa, a partner in Jingxin Chemical Group, is building a $28 million rubber and plastics recycling business. This new venture will create 200 jobs and marks “the beginning of a new day” for St. Stephen, according to Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler. Elected officials, dignitaries, and economic development professionals gathered at the site on Ravenell Drive to celebrate this facility that will soon produce injection-molded products for SC’s aerospace sector and other industries.

Mr. Zhang stole the show as he recounted his own humble origins in China. Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Zhang called the announcement “a dream come true,” and shared that the company’s patented processes will “revolutionize the rubber and plastics industries.” His excitement and sheer joy were refreshing, as he even stopped to take photos of the crowd on his cellphone from the dais.

The translation of Mr. Zhang’s speech was another example of the increasing global nature of the Charleston region, as it was provided by a Mandarin teacher from the Berkeley school district. As the One Region strategic recommendations note, our region must become more globally fluent as our economy becomes more globally-focused. While it may seem minor, one of the first needs a newly relocated expat has is enrolling their children in schools and finding local language schools. If our region is to continue as a foreign-friendly business destination, we must also strive to become “foreigner-friendly.”

Viva represents a new day indeed for St. Stephen, a town of roughly 1,800 residents. The struggles of a small rural community where over one-third of the residents live in poverty is unfortunately still a reality in South Carolina. Despite the well-publicized growth and economic announcements in urban areas like Charleston, Greenville, and Rock Hill, there are areas of the state with a history of agriculture and low-skilled manufacturing that are grappling with the existential question of how to survive in the era of globalization. That’s why announcements like the Viva facility are celebrated with such fervor–the economic impact to St. Stephen is transformational. And it means opportunity.

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Contact Us:

Brent Jonas
Brent Jonas | Director, Stakeholder Relations
843.760.4523 | bjonas@crda.org

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