Interviewed by Brantley Strickland, SCCED
[Brantley Strickland:] It seems no one sets out to get into economic development. How did you break into the profession, and how did you arrive in your current role in Dorchester County?
[John Truluck:] A long time ago, in a land far away, I had a great mentor who got me involved in many different aspects of county government. I have a fire and EMS background and got into county government as the Emergency Services Director. The County Administrator drafted me into starting a water & sewer utility, managing a planning & zoning department, paving roads, opening recycling centers, building airport hangars, creating regional landfills, and probably many other things that I have forgotten.
I was young, dumb, and eager to take them on (with no extra pay, I might add) because I thought I wanted to be a County Administrator myself. He came to me and asked if I wanted to be the Economic Development Director. Not even knowing what economic development was, I kindly turned him down. His third offer was a little sterner. He had accepted a new job in a new county and said we needed to have a “father-son talk.” He explained that this was the last thing he could do for me before he left. I realized that I might not last long with his successor, and the pay was a little better, so what the heck? Needless to say, I did not realize that he really was doing me a favor, and I was about to start an incredible journey in the best job in county government.
[BS:] What advice would you give to a young economic developer just starting their career?
[JT:] This is a relationship business. Integrity is a really big deal. Always be available and responsive. Under promise and overproduce.
[BS:] You’ve had some big wins over the years in Dorchester County. How does the Walmart project compare?
[JT:] There’s no question this is a milestone win for the County and for me. From a jobs perspective, it’s the biggest. From a capital investment perspective, it’s one of the biggest.
[BS:] What role did SC Ports Authority play in landing the project?
[JT:] I can’t understate how pivotal the SC Ports Authority was to the success of this project. The decision came down to a battle of the ports, rather than a battle of the sites. That being said, economic development always requires teamwork. Without the County’s leadership and vision being put into action more than 10 years ago, the site wouldn’t have had the infrastructure to even be in the running in the first place. This is unquestionably a team win for the State, the region, the County, and most certainly the Port.
[BS:] With all of the recent success in Dorchester County, it seems like workforce development would be a substantial need. Tell us how your community has been able to step up and help fill those jobs for companies.
[JT:] Workforce is certainly a need. It was a need before the Walmart announcement, and it will be after it. I feel better about trying to fill 1,000 jobs now than before COVID. Many people are looking to move from jobs that were impacted by COVID to careers in manufacturing and distribution that were not as affected. The Charleston Region has been blessed with a number of large employment projects over the last 10 years. Every time people have said Charleston was going to run out of eligible employees, but that hasn’t happened. A big part of that is our in-migration. With population growth that averages 28 people moving to the region each day, which has held steady for the past 20 years, I see no reason why it won’t continue for the next 20.
In addition, we are working on many impactful workforce programs with many great partners. Programs like ManuFirst can prepare people with no experience in manufacturing for the higher-skilled jobs we are attracting. STEMersion is equipping teachers to guide students into in-demand STEM fields. Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics are now being taught in our High Schools. Unbelievable! I could go on and on.
[BS:] What’s an ideal day off look like for you?
[JT:] I’m a pretty simple guy. I love traveling with my wife and daughters and hope we’ll have the opportunity to get back to that in 2021. I haven’t been able to shake my fire department roots that I mentioned earlier, and I still enjoy being involved as a volunteer. I am a tinkerer, so I have a lot of projects ongoing around the house. Being in the Lowcountry, the water is always calling. I don’t get out there as much as I would like. A boat is on my list, but in the meantime, I am looking for new friends with boats.
[BS:] Where can SCEDA members go to ‘follow’ you and your organization on social media?