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Economic Development

From its very beginning in 1940, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative viewed itself as a community builder. By taking electric service into geographic areas where it had never been available before, the cooperative helped open the door to any number of positive developments.

Central-station electric power worked to make the countryside more productive. The number of farms and other residences beyond the borders of area towns and cities, therefore, increased at a rapid pace. After a time, commercial establishments and other institutions came on the scene to serve the growing residential population. The electric infrastructure was put in place and then expanded to support the addition of new customers to the Blue Ridge system.

Several decades of sustained growth have produced a huge network of transmission and distribution lines and substations that reaches into every corner of the cooperative’s service territory. Consequently, Blue Ridge is positioned to offer electric service to any prospective customer, large or small, that might locate within its assigned area.

However, reliable electric service, by itself, is not sufficient to attract development, especially that of the commercial and industrial kind. Other essential elements of infrastructure must also be present.

Members of the South Carolina General Assembly recognized this need for enhanced infrastructure as a state-wide issue and, in 1996, passed the Rural Development Act. The legislation is both visionary and simple in its application. It provides that each taxpaying utility can defer up to $300,000 of its annual state gross-receipts tax obligation to finance job-creating infrastructure improvements on the local level.

Therefore, the individual utility has the choice of either forwarding the dollars to Columbia to support state government or directing the money toward local job-creating projects. Either way, the $300,000 in RDA funds is going to come out of the utility’s yearly budget. Since the best economic-development decisions are consistently made at the local level, it makes perfect sense for Blue Ridge and other utilities to concentrate these RDA dollars there.

The language of the statute also prevents a utility from using RDA funds to finance construction of its own facilities. In every instance, the dollars must be used to underwrite road improvements, water and sewer line extensions, spec-building construction, or the like.

It should also be noted that the Rural Development Act has an additional feature that helps to maximize the available financial resources in support of new infrastructure. The statute permits a utility that does not use its full allotment of RDA funds to share any unused portion with other parts of the state. As a result, Blue Ridge has been able, on occasion, to appropriate some of these unexpended dollars to supplement its contributions to local economic development. By the end of 2003, Blue Ridge had supported development projects with $1,745,000 of its own RDA funds and another $459,000 supplied by other cooperatives.

In the years since the passage of the Rural Development Act, Blue Ridge has channeled these RDA funds into a variety of infrastructure expansions. These funds should not be viewed as the deciding factor that brought new jobs to the Upstate region. However, Blue Ridge RDA funds have been an important part of an overall package that ultimately persuaded these businesses and industries to come to our particular area. The details of those contributions are detailed in the paragraphs that immediately follow.

Summary

In the years since the passage of the Rural Development Act, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative has diverted $2,204,000 to support jobs-creating economic-development projects in its service area. All of these individual operations represent quality employment opportunities for hundreds of residents in the region. In addition, these companies will be making significant contributions to the local tax base for years to come. By any measure, the General Assembly’s RDA funding mechanism is a notable success.

Along with its RDA contributions, the cooperative is also proud to be the electricity provider for Walgreen, Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Company, KeyMark, Pine River Plastics, and Compact Automation. These large-power loads are welcome additions to our system and help to hold electric rates down for all Blue Ridge customers.

Business concerns contemplating South Carolina’s northwestern corner as a possible location to do commerce have some positive prospects to consider. One is that RDA funds are helping to ensure that more-than-adequate infrastructure will be in place to meet their needs. And secondly, the very best in electric services can also be part of the package. Both Blue Ridge operations are customer-focused.

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Anderson County

Oconee County

Pickens County



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