COLUMBIA, S.C. — Newberry County Council Wednesday discussed extending its grocery store recruitment incentives for another two years in hopes of attracting more grocery stores to the area.
County Council first passed the incentives after one of Newberry County's three grocery stores closed in 2017, but expired in 2020. The two grocery stores left are Walmart and Food Lion.
"We can’t afford to let nobody else close, especially Walmart and Food Lion, that’d be a big disgrace," said Lifelong Newberry resident Willy Ray Harmon.
Both stores are ten minutes away from him. A commute he said he does not take for granted. Prosperity has one grocery store while Pomaria, Whitmire, and Little Mountain have no grocery stores at all.
"These two are okay, but if we had one or two more, it'd be a nice thing to have, but we just got to deal with what we’ve got to deal with," said Harmon.
Between 1990 and 2015, rural non-metro counties lost 39 percent of their grocery stores, according to a report by the USDA.
Newberry County Economic Development Executive Director Rick Farmer explained attracting grocery stores to the county has been a challenge.
"Grocery stores are being built in rapidly growing communities," said Farmer. "We are growing, but we're not growing at say the rate of Lexington County."
According to Census Data, Newberry county gained 200 people from 2010 to 2020. Data from the USDA shows 14,000 Newberry County residents are living in a food desert.
"Groceries are a fact of life, it's not a luxury item is something everybody has to have," said Farmer.
The county is hoping to draw in more stores by providing tax credits for new grocery stores that invest between one and five million dollars in the community.
"It follows certain parameters, but at minimum, they would save 60% over the lifetime of a 20 year agreement, and a maximum they'd save 100% For the first five years and then 60% after that," said Farmer.
According to Farmer, the tax credit, if approved, will go into effect immediately and will last for two years. Farmer added the city and county are also working on other recruiting efforts.
"We're actively recruiting grocery stores in virtually any way we can, including private face to face meetings, we've hired a consultant or the city's hired a consultant to to recruit these grocery stores," said Farmer.
Columbia's Food Policy Committee is also considering similar incentives in addition to a mobile food market and adding neighborhood farmers markets.