South Carolina entrepreneurs find success with help from state and local programs.
When looking for a place to locate his budding business, Milwaukee, Wisc., native James Jordon considered several southeastern hot spots including the Raleigh-Durham area, Charlotte and Atlanta.
Jordon ultimately chose Greenville because he saw the city’s quality of life, growth potential and opportunities as a fit for him, his family and his business.
“For me, it started at [Greenville] City Hall and led to the state building,” says Jordon, whose JCC General Contractors specializes in commercial interior renovations. “When I started to talk to people at the Department of Commerce, the attitude was very progressive, meaning folks were inviting and encouraging us to move our business here. It’s one thing to encourage in word, but I also saw people taking action – making introductions and helping us see what doors we could knock on.”
The South Carolina Department of Commerce is committed to helping small businesses grow and thrive, from hosting networking events and making startups aware of funding sources to providing business consultations. The department’s Buy South Carolina program helps small businesses find new customers by connecting larger companies to in-state vendors and suppliers.
Wheels of Fortune
Another Greenville transplant, Boyd Cycling, has become a leading manufacturer of bicycle wheels. Owners Boyd and Nicole Johnson moved to Greenville in 2006 because the area was a good place for Boyd – a competitive cycler – to train. As interest in cycling grew, the couple decided to build bicycles and wheels and sell them online. Today, the company employs 12 workers, partners with local bike shops and exports its wheels, which are manufactured from carbon fiber and alloy, all over the world.
“The cycling community is just starting here, and community leaders are committed to cycling and incorporating it as a part of quality of life,” Nicole Johnson says. “Entrepreneurship is so important to the state to help create jobs and offer opportunities for individuals. It’s really good to have leaders and organizations committed to growing the community and improving the quality of life.”
Nancy Ogburn’s commercial recycling service Tomato Palms originated from compassion after reading an article about a homeless man who collected aluminum cans to pay for social services. Ogburn spent the next few weeks calling businesses in her hometown of Irmo, asking them to donate their empty cans to raise money for the city’s homeless. They agreed but asked if Ogburn could help with all their recycling needs.
An online search for commercial recycling led her to the Commerce Department’s Office of Recycling Marketing and Development, where she received more information about the recycling needs of businesses and was introduced to other industry leaders. Ogburn signed her first commercial client in 2008, and today she serves more than 130 businesses in four counties.
Another success story is Spartina 449, a Hilton Head Island company that designs and sells upscale handbags, jewelry and accessories. The company has 40 full-time employees and was named to the Inc. 5000 list.
“We live and work in the Lowcountry area of South Carolina, which provides the inspiration for our name,” President and Creative Director Kay Stanley says. “Spartina is a marsh grass that grows along the shoreline, and 449 was the lot number of our house we built when my husband, Curt, and I first moved to South Carolina.”
Today, Spartina 449 products are sold online and in 1,500 upscale retail stores throughout the U.S, Australia, Japan, Canada and the Caribbean. There is also a Spartina 449 headquarters store in Bluffton, plus the company designs personalized products for commercial clients. For example, Spartina 449 just produced a custom line of handbags for Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.
“There isn’t a better state to live and work than South Carolina, largely because of the diverse natural beauty,” Stanley says. “We are based [near] the water and beaches, and my husband and I also have a home in Salem, S.C., at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
A Place at the Table
Edward Mueller, owner of Carolina Gumbaya in North Myrtle Beach, traded corporate life for entrepreneurship when he started selling his frozen seafood gumbo to local restaurants and retailers. Since its beginning in 2013, Mueller says his business has more than doubled, culminating in a distribution deal with the largest grocery chain in the country.
Mueller has even been in talks with the governor’s office to designate gumbo as the official state dish, which he says would “open up another avenue of income for businesses throughout the state.”
“The more gumbo we sell, the more rice gets sold, and the more okra gets sold from farmers growing it, and that helps support the economy,” Mueller says. “I’m not trying to do this for myself. If it’s large, then I get a slice of the big pie, which is better than a big slice of no pie.”
Jordan agrees. “My idea of business has always been that it’s a team sport; it’s not just an individual thing,” he says. “The team really rallied with us in order to achieve our goals.”