More than 300 farmers, business people and scientists will converge on Florence this week to discuss how South Carolina can use technology to make farms more profitable and breathe new life into rural towns.

The key may not be growing food, cotton or timber, but growing crops that can be used as soil additives, coal alternatives — even jet fuel.

The BioEnterprise Summit will be held Thursday and Friday and is designed to enhance agribusiness and agricultural manufacturing opportunities along Interstate 95 in South Carolina and neighboring states.

Organizers said improving economic development in this region can be done by attracting new bioenterprises and other technology-driven industries, but it will require a coordinated effort involving research, education and industrial recruitment.

Jim Frederick, a professor with Clemson University’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center, said the conference began because of a $50,000 federal grant and a sense that more could be done here.

“South Carolina, I hate to say it, is a little behind our neighboring states, like Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, especially, as far as attracting new plant-based industries into the state,” he said.

For instance, Chemtex, an Italian-owned engineering and technology company, recently announced plans for a cellulosic ethanol facility to be developed in Clinton, N.C.

“Working with different agencies and different groups, I’m even not sure anybody knows whose responsibility it is to attract new agribusinesses or new bioenterprises,” Frederick added. “It’s kind of up in the air, but what it comes down to is it’s going to take a unified effort with everybody. ... The overall goal is to become a little more organized within the state.”

State Sen. Danny Verdin, the Laurens Republican who chairs the Senate’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, will talk to the group Thursday night.

The summit also will offer 100 participants a chance to tour Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center, where the school is growing switchgrass, biomass sorghum, cottonwood trees, sweet sorghum, sun hemp, energy cane, flax, energy beets and grain sorghum.

Luring a biotech company can be a complex equation involving not only the company but nearby cropland, transportation options and existing markets. There’s not one particular crop or product expected to take center stage this week.

South Carolina may be in a good position to attract an industry that would convert crops into jet fuel, Frederick said, “but I’m also a firm believer of don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.