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Arkansas-based retail giant Walmart is No 1 in at least two categories: It's at the top of the Fortune 500 rankings again, and it's also the largest private-sector employer in South Carolina. File/AP

Sales gains at South Carolina’s largest publicly traded companies last year weren’t enough to reclaim a place among the Fortune 500.

The consolation is that plenty of the big businesses that are in the elite club have at least a foothold in the Palmetto State.

Fortune released its famous corporate yardstick on its website last week, ranking U.S. businesses by size based on annual sales. 

For the latest edition, the cut line came in at a hair over $5.4 billion, which gave the final spot to uniform giant Cintas.

South Carolina isn't alone in being shut out. At least 11 other states are in the same boat.

Economists and companies have downplayed the real-world impact of gaining or losing spots on the Fortune 500, saying it means little from an economic-performance standpoint at the macro level. 

A Motley Fool columnist questioned the usefulness of the ranking and its methodology in 2014.

"While revenue is important, it should never be the gauge of success for a business or management team," Dan Dzombak wrote. "You would never point to a morbidly obese person as the gold standard of healthy living, but this essentially is what the Fortune 500 does. The most important questions in business are how much value is created for others and how well are resources being used."

At the same time, landing on the list is certainly a matter of pride for businesses, not to mention a bragging point for economic development officials looking to court big employers.

South Carolina has been represented on the Fortune 500 for all but six years since Fortune began publishing it in 1955. The state had its best showing in 1990, when Springs Industries, Sonoco, Bowater Inc., JPS Textile Group and Delta Woodside Industries all pulled in enough to make the cut.

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Of those, Sonoco is the last surviving independent company. The Hartsville-based global packaging giant dropped out of the Fortune 500 some years ago. It's now ranked No. 523 based on its 2017 sales of $5.04 billion and could rise next year based on a recent acquisition that's expected to add at least $90 million in sales.

South Carolina's last Fortune 500 holdout was Fort Mill-based paper maker Domtar, which technically is a Canadian company. It slipped below the cut line in 2017 and dropped another 12 spots this year to No. 517.

The other bona-fide South Carolina-based companies in the secondary Fortune 1000 grouping are South Carolina Electric & Gas parent SCANA Corp. (No. 564) and Greenville- based technology firm ScanSource (No. 653).

While it would take a hefty acquisition or sales spurt to get a company like Sonoco or Domtar back into the club, it's not as if Fortune 500 businesses headquartered elsewhere are irrelevant. The long tentacles of these mega-corporations tend to reach deep into the state economy, paying taxes and creating jobs up and down the income chain 

Walmart, for instance, is the largest private-sector employers in South Carolina with about 32,000 workers. Once again, the retail behemoth from small-town Arkansas is sitting on the pole of the Fortune 500 by a wide margin, with a staggering $500 billion in sales. 

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott