They may not be based in Charleston, but Fortune 500 companies reach deep into the regions economy
South Carolina is down to just one representative on the Fortune 500 list.
That’s the glass-half-empty takeaway.
The annual ranking of U.S. companies that rake in the most money came out last week. It revealed that homegrown utility owner SCANA Corp. was no longer a member of the elite club, ending a 10-year run with the biggest players in big business.
And technically speaking, the last company standing isn’t truly based in the Palmetto State. Papermaker Domtar Corp. (No. 436) runs its U.S. business from Fort Mill. But it’s owned by a Canadian company and is registered in Delaware.
On the other hand, the South Carolinians who cash paychecks from Domtar probably dismiss those kinds of minor details as irrelevant.
That’s the glass-half-full viewpoint. And it’s useful when analyzing one of the simplest and best-known scorecards of American industry.
South Carolina has been represented on the Fortune 500 for all but four years since Fortune magazine began publishing it in 1955. The state peaked in 1990. That year, Springs Industries, Sonoco, Bowater Inc., JPS Textile Group and Delta Woodside Industries all made the cut.
The number of South Carolina representatives has since dwindled. Even so, the businesses that make the Fortune 500 are as relevant and important today in a midsize city such as Charleston as they are in big markets such as New York or Chicago or San Francisco.
Locally, at least, the long arms of these mega-corporations reach deep into the region’s economy, creating jobs up and down the income chain and generating tax dollars that support schools and other public services.
Six big retailers with area stores fall within the top 50, led by No. 2 Wal-Mart, one of the largest private-sector employers in these parts. Others include CVS, Costco, Home Depot and Target. Also within the top 10 percent: AT&T, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Caterpillar and Comcast.
Just a tad further down, UPS, Best Buy and Lowe’s are ranked consecutively from the 52nd to the 54th spots. A diverse group of blue-chip names — Johnson Controls, Morgan Stanley, FedEx, DuPont and Google — aren’t far behind. All have local operations.
Defense giant General Dynamics, now a full-fledged local corporate citizen by way of its late 2011 purchase of Ladson-based armored vehicle manufacturer Force Protection, came in at No. 92.
Not missing much
As headquarters and head counts go, publicly traded software maker Blackbaud Inc. is probably the biggest game in town.
It almost goes without saying that the region’s business boosters wouldn’t mind adding a few more names to the mix.
Home offices typically create well-paying jobs and inject an element of civic pride. Also, companies tend to spread more of their philanthropic dollars in areas where the decisionmakers live.
“Having more corporate headquarters could certainly add something,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist for Wells Fargo in Charlotte.
Vitner then added a caveat: “That’s not where the job growth seems to be occurring.”
“In South Carolina’s case, it’s hard to say you’re missing that much,” he said.
College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner agreed. He pointed to South Carolina’s success at luring investments and jobs from foreign employers, which don’t qualify for the Fortune 500. BMW, Michelin and Robert Bosch are among the marquee names.
“We have some pretty well-heeled companies, domestically and internationally,” he said. “Even our domestic companies are international.”
Hefner homed in on one example among the Fortune 500 to support his case.
With revenue of $68.7 billion last year, he cited a high-flying business from Illinois that’s ranked No. 39 on the latest list.
“We have Boeing here,” Hefner said.
Reach John P. McDermott at 937-5572 or email@example.com.