Darlington population decrease could reflect in schools, road repairs

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Florence County has seen its population grow each year over the last five years, but other Pee Dee counties like Darlington, Marion, Dillon, and Marlboro have seen more people leave.

Darlington County Economic Director Frank Willis says the biggest reason people are leaving Darlington is the lack of jobs. He hopes to bring more to the area, or expand current businesses like Nucor that currently employs over 500 people.

“’It’s a trend you don’t want to see continue,” said Willis of the declining population.

Willis says people leaving the county hurts the tax base, the remaining population, and the ability to receive grant money for improvement projects on roads or agencies.

“How do you fund your police department, sheriff’s office, and Emergency management?” questions Willis. “They all get money on a pro rate basis based on population. If your population goes down, your potential to get grant money goes down. Counties count on that money.”

Willis also says Darlington County has the highest graduation rate in the state, but if parents leave the county for lack of employment opportunities, the school district may lose its competitive edge.

“If you’re losing population you’re also losing the ability to pay for those new schools,” says Willis. “You already have the money fixed to pay for the new schools but if instead of the school having 1,000 students it only has 600 students. You have a problem.”

He also hopes to expand current companies or bring agricultural and food processing businesses to the county.

“Darlington is a very rural county, so we try to match what our strengths are with industries that need those same strengths,” explains Willis.

President of the Florence Chamber Michael Miller says Florence County’s job and population growth is a result of a good educational foundation with Francis Marion University, Florence-Darlington Technical College and Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology.

“They’ve had a huge impact on getting people ready to be employed and creating our future,” said Miller.

Miller explained more people in the county means more people on the roads.

“The downside where the infrastructure may not be up to par to begin with and now we have a higher traffic slow,” says Miller. “Some of our intersections that were dangerous we have some road conditions that need to be fixed the traffic congestion it is becoming an issue in some locations.”

Regardless, both Willis and Miller are optimistic about growth in the counties in upcoming years.