Small business remains the giant in South Carolina

by Chris Roberts, The State

Small business remains the giant in South Carolina, but the state has a few more mega-employers than it did a few years ago.

Half of S.C.’s business establishments had four or fewer workers in 2001, according to a new Census Bureau report.
The agency’s “County Business Patterns” survey says 50,000 of the state’s 97,030 business establishments employ four or fewer people.

Nearly three-fourths of all S.C. business establishments have fewer than nine workers.

Ratchet it up to companies employing fewer than 50 workers, and you’ve accounted for 95 percent of the state’s businesses.

“The numbers tell the story — this is a small business state,” said Frank Knapp, head of the state’s small business chamber of commerce. “These are numbers that don’t get a lot of attention.”

While small businesses have grown in South Carolina, the state also has added a few more high-employing companies.
The 2001 report counted 287 companies with at least 500 workers. That’s 20 more companies than in 1997.

South Carolina’s business patterns tend to match the national average. The Census Bureau counted 7.1 million business establishments in 2001, and nearly 54 percent of them had fewer than five workers.

Just one in 1,010 companies had more than 1,000 workers — the same ratio as South Carolina.

South Carolina also stays close to national averages in business types.

The biggest variation is in retail trade. While 1 in 5 S.C. workers has a job in retail trade, the ratio is closer to 1 in 6 nationwide.

The total number of business establishments in South Carolina grew by 3 percent between 1997 and 2001, the Census report said.

That matches the 3 percent growth during that time period nationwide and in Lexington County.

But Richland County added businesses at a faster-than-average rate. It had 9,265 establishments in 2001, up 6 percent from 1997.

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