Port growth means big changes for little St. George

As the Port of Charleston continues to grow, its economic benefits continue to spread into the surrounding area as companies seek to move their goods in and out of the port. 

One area likely to be affected is tiny St. George, a Dorchester County community with a population of 2,000, a surprising amount of entertainment amenities for such a small town and a treasured slow cadence of life that just might be speeding up a tad.

Global behemoth DHL Supply Chain industries has chosen a spot about two miles outside St. George to build a $100 million, three-building storage and distribution complex, under the aegis of the Dorchester County Development Authority, The first building is slated to be completed in 2020, and overall the company is expected to bring 450 new jobs into the area economy.

“We are delighted, and overwhelmed,” St. George Mayor Anne Johnston told the Palmetto Business Journal in an interview. “We’ve got to get ready for some growth.”

St. George is unique in several ways, she explained. One is that although it is so small, it is also the county seat. Dorchester County, she said, is shaped like a bow tie: with the knot in the center being a swamp, it has historically been divided into the more developed “lower” county and the rural “upper” one. But an anomaly in South Carolina law that mandates a county seat be seven miles from a border means that the much larger Somerville was out of the running.

“With rural St. George being the county seat, and this coming in, and Volvo close by, everybody in St. George should have a job, and everybody in the rural area that’s around St. George," Johnston said. “It’s very exciting, but it’s almost frightening when you think, ‘Are we ready to triple in size?’”

She said an excellent infrastructure — including a good water supply and water department, a good police department, adequate maintenance (“Of course we’ll have to hire more people as we get bigger”) and a consolidating county school district — can handle growth.

“If we control it and zone it and plan it right," Johnston said. “We don’t want it to get too densely populated. We’ve got to work with the county in planning and zoning and making sure we protect the pace of this town."

The biggest challenge ahead?

“Most people think, ‘I don’t want it to change. I want it to be a nice little town,'” Johnston said. “A lot of our struggles are going to be convincing people that whether they like it or not, change is here, and we need to support it and we need to welcome it."

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