A meet and greet was held Thursday at the Orangeburg County Conference Center to welcome new Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Merle Johnson.  

Orangeburg County’s new economic development leader praised the county’s potential Thursday as he was welcomed to his new job.

Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Merle Johnson received smiles and handshakes at a meet and greet held at the Orangeburg County Conference Center on Russell Street.

Johnson said his first 50 days on the job have been like “drinking from a firehose.”

Having previously worked in Charleston and Greenville, Johnson thought he’d face a slower pace in Orangeburg County.

“I was vastly incorrect, which is a good problem to have,” Johnson said.

Prospect activity remains high, he said. Also, “the county continues to allow me to push forward to try to get spec buildings and to continue to build business parks. It is all positive.”

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Johnson was unanimously selected by the 12-member OCDC board during a Dec. 6 meeting. He took the helm Jan. 17.

Johnson expressed his appreciation to the OCDC board, county council and county leadership for their ‘”vote of confidence” in him.

He described Orangeburg County as “the diamond in the rough.”

“I see a tremendous amount of potential here,” he said.

Johnson gave a shout-out to the county’s efforts to develop infrastructure, as well as the county’s institutions of higher learning and the Orangeburg County School District for serving as pipelines for the local workforce.

“You guys have done a phenomenal job thus far but there is more room to go,” Johnson said. “I would say pat yourselves on the back, but get ready for a very fun ride.”

Johnson also expressed his excitement about the partnership between the private and public sectors and cited it as the “key to success.”

“We have got to continue that,” Johnson said.

Johnson replaces Gregg Robinson, who served as executive director for about 17 years. Robinson became the chief executive officer of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership.

During his first 50 days, Johnson has met with various business and education leaders and has visited a number of industrial sites, including Husqvarna and BRN Sleep Products.

Orangeburg County Economic Development Partnership Chairman Bob McCurry expressed his excitement about Johnson’s arrival.

“He is hardworking, he is enthusiastic,” McCurry said. “I think he will help us all try to build a new and better Orangeburg County.”

The OCEDP is a nonprofit that helps recruit industries and serves as a bridge between the public and private sectors.

OCDC Chairman Kenneth Middleton described Johnson as personable, approachable and hard working.

“We were looking for someone that would be a part of our community. We feel like we found that,” he said.

Johnson has 15 years of economic development experience.

He most recently served as the economic and community development director for the City of Greenville.

Prior to arriving in Greenville, Johnson was the deputy director of economic development for Charleston County. This was a position he held for about 7-1/2 years.

While there he helped attract the Mercedes-Benz Vans plant to North Charleston. The company assembles Sprinter vans for the U.S. market.

Johnson also served with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance from 2006 through 2013. He led project management efforts for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

The OCEDP sponsored the event. Orangeburg’s Buck Ridge Plantation catered.

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