SUMMERTON -- Every seat in the Clarendon County unemployment office is taken on a typical weekday afternoon, and many of these people won't find new jobs any time soon. That's just the way it is here along South Carolina's poor and rural Interstate 95 corridor.
So far this year, only one job opens for every three people sitting in the seats at the satellite office where folks travel for miles to file unemployment claims and apply for new work.
Who will it be: 39-year-old Patricia Williams who balances her fussy grandson on her lap while she fills out paperwork?
How about Tyler Alsing, a 20-year-old who says he will take any job that'll give him an honest paycheck; or his mother, Teresa, a 54-year-old, out-of-work respiratory therapist who uses a walker to balance on her prosthetic foot?
Maybe it will be 29-year-old Charles Dupress, who wants a temporary job to help support his "sisters and aunties" now that his seasonal work has run out.
Or will Viola McConico be the lucky one?
McConico, 54, is one of the most recent victims of the bad economy. She was laid off after 32 years with the Federal-Mogul Corp. plant, not far from the unemployment office here in the town where some of the first steps of the Civil Rights movement were taken in 1951. A lawsuit then led to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
McConico got her pink slip when the $5.3 billion global automotive supplier decided to move its South Carolina operations to Illinois, Alabama and Mexico.
The manufacturer is the fourth to leave Clarendon County in the past year, stripping the county of 600 jobs as the recession deepened. Over the past decade, the I-95 corridor that stretches from Jasper County to Marlboro County has lost 42 percent of its manufacturing jobs, compared to 36 percent lost statewide.
Unemployment along the corridor hovered around 13 percent in 2009 while the statewide rate averaged 11.7 percent, and some places such as Allendale and Marion counties spiked at 20 percent.
Charleston County, which is not in the corridor, fared much better with an unemployment rate that averaged about 9 percent last year.
McConico said waiting through the rounds of layoffs over the past year at Federal-Mogul was terrifying. Her pink slip came Aug. 13.
The plant is expected to shut down completely around the middle of September, letting go the last 100 or so workers. Since Federal-Mogul opened in 1974, the corporation has been one of Clarendon County's largest employers with up 800 workers on the payroll at one time.
Fred Baker's Sanford and Sons Salvage and Antiques sits between the plant and a strip of boarded-up shops in Summerton's otherwise picturesque downtown.
Every flat surface in his shop is piled high: "Buns of Steel" and a stack of VHS tapes, a knife set, old box televisions and rabbit ears, lamp shades and ceramic roosters. "All sales final" is posted in spots across the shop, and Baker said he stopped letting people buy items on credit.
Baker says business is slow, but people come in regularly to pawn whatever they have of value around the house. They use the cash to pay their light bill or to buy groceries, he said.
The 70-year-old shakes his head. "Ain't many jobs out there. This is Summerton, South Carolina -- two stop lights and that's it.
"Federal-Mogul isn't the only thing we got but it's the biggest thing," he said.
The old plant will be one more empty space John Truluck and his team at the Clarendon County Development Board will have to try to fill.
In the county industrial park, the old Yanagawa plant, a Honda supplier, sits empty and overgrown and the LBT Stainless Inc. sign is rusted. In front of the LBT plant is a "For Sale" sign with Truluck's phone numbers.
Truluck said the people in Clarendon are resilient and the county is poised to jump on any opportunity.
"I think we've got a very positive outlook on what the future holds," he said. "The light at the end of the tunnel is still on."
One bright spot is a new Georgia-Pacific mill for the production of oriented strand board that will create about 150 jobs. But Truluck said the mill's opening is dependent on the housing market picking back up. The mill has been empty since it was built by Grant Forest Products, which went into bankruptcy within the last two years.
Truluck said many of the manufacturers in Clarendon have located in the county because of Charleston's port. He said the county also is hoping to benefit from the outgrowth of Boeing Co.'s new Dreamliner plant in North Charleston. Clarendon launched a marketing campaign to capitalize on its central location, access to Lake Marion, low cost of living and proximity to the Lowcountry.
"We're hanging our hat on a lot of Charleston's successes," Truluck said. "The message we're getting back is they're just not ready yet."