From Bea Wray

You selected your cell phone service and your access to cable TV provider, but yet you were told who to call for electricity, right? So, if electric utilities are not out trying to win your business, how do they go about building their business? They grow their business by growing business in the areas they serve.

This is a timely topic now as Santee Cooper has touted their economic development prowess during the Volvo deal. While their role was noteworthy, it begs the question: are they the only utility that has a foothold on economic development? The answer is no.

All utilities, whether investor owned, public power, municipal and other, have economic development as a core element of its mission and goals. Why? As a foundational element of society, utilities play a critical role in fostering additional business in the areas where they are located. And there is a “feel-good” component too! For the community and residents who live there, it provides additional good paying jobs, the community grows, the tax base increases and more services are possible. For the utilities themselves, it creates additional business for them with sustainable power needs. Utility costs and labor costs are typically the top two costs facing a business, so it is natural that a utility would be involved in the beginning of any economic development discussions. Many offer industry rates in order to attract businesses. Additionally, utilities work in concert with local and state leaders in the economic development and community building space.

It is a mutually beneficial model where success builds upon greater success. When I led a non-profit focused on job creation, I could often count on the local power company to sponsor our events and provide other financial support.

Many utilities have departments focused solely on economic development. Some have showcase buildings with high tech capabilities of hosting potential companies and demonstrating the region’s attributes, availability of specific building sites, data regarding workforce availability and benefits of relocating or expanding their business to that region.

Here are links to a few resources in South Carolina:

With the planned merger of Dominion Energy and SCANA, and questions swirling about what will happen to Santee Cooper, some South Carolina charities worry that losing the local corporate headquarters to a larger corporation could mean less focus on economic development and community support. It is true that corporate headquarters, for a variety of industries, does cultivate local bonds and inform charitable giving. When it comes to power, I am confident that the core focus of any and all utilities in leading economic development efforts will continue to be the trend. For this is what grows states and communities, and benefits utilities in the short and long term.