Home to coastal paradises and vibrant cities, South Carolina is also one of America’s most business-friendly states. Over 1,100 new businesses started up in 2019 alone, contributing to more than $234 billion in overall state income.
Nearly 400,000 small businesses call the Palmetto State home, and 96.9% of all South Carolina businesses are small businesses. Together they employ over 743,000 workers — 46.9% of the state’s workforce.
With over 5 million people in 46 counties and 7 major urban areas, South Carolina is a hub of trade, tourism, innovation, and more, making it the perfect place to start a business.
Why These Businesses Made Our List
How did we find the best businesses to start in South Carolina? ZenBusiness did the legwork for you, analyzing South Carolina’s economic trends and diving into the latest U.S. census data to track down underserved business types within the state.
In other words, we’ve built a list of turnkey business opportunities, ready for entrepreneurs like you to dig into today. So scroll down, get inspired, and get started. Then, let us know when you’re ready to lock down the details.
South Carolina Economy
Are you ready to work up your business plan, own your own business, learn how to get an LLC license, or form an LLC in South Carolina? No matter the products and services, there is a large opportunity to build up in business friendly South Carolina, especially growing and trending businesses such as:
- Financial services
- Car rentals
- Poultry Farming
With a mixture of rural areas and close-knit small towns and cities, South Carolina has metropolitan areas with some of the most successful entrepreneurs, including:
- Myrtle Beach
- North Charleston
- Fort Mill
South Carolina is regarded as a state that’s friendly to business. In August 2020, South Carolina’s unemployment rate was down 2.4%, to 6.3%, and the state maintains strong employment in industries such as:
- Trade, transportation, and utilities
- Professional and business services
- Leisure and hospitality
- Education and health services
- Financial services
Area Development ranks South Carolina #5 in the nation for doing business, and South Carolina can be a perfect state for many businesses. Sole prop or partnership? Corporation or LLC? Whatever type of business you want to start, here are some other factors to keep in mind when deciding what business to start in South Carolina:
- Covered by 6 interstate highways
- Home values growing at over 3.5%, with a current Median Single-Family Home Sales Price of $222,430
- 5 commercial airports, including 3 international
- 0.17 point growth in July 2020 over the previous month, ending with the South Carolina Leading Index (SCLI) valued at 101.9
- Stable workforce of approximately 2.45 million, up 16,402 as of July 2020
- 187 miles of coastline
- State Personal Income increased 0.8% in Q1 2020, to $239.1 billion
- Support for online working, with over 70,000 online job postings available
- Right to work state
- As of July 2020, many employment sectors reported job gains
- 44.6% increase in ownership of businesses by minorities
Small firms with fewer than 100 employees represent the majority of small business employment. State-wide hourly earnings in private industry average $26.37, and you can expect that number to increase in major urban areas.
South Carolina sets itself up to be business-friendly in other ways too. Industry benefits from power costs that are 12% lower than the national average. The state’s taxation is also more benevolent toward business than many states: No wholesale tax, no state property tax (but local property taxes may apply), and no local income tax (though state income tax may apply).
In addition to business-friendly South Carolina state fees, tax credits are available to companies creating new jobs in South Carolina. There’s also no sales taxes on industrial power, materials used in finished products, or for the manufacture of machinery, and businesses can take advantage of extensive business incentive programs and workforce development programs.
7 Best Businesses to Start in South Carolina
With all that said, what’s the best business to start in South Carolina? Here are some to consider.
1. Start a Food Truck or Restaurant
From barbecue to shrimp and grits and okra to frogmore stew, South Carolina’s strong food culture, vibrant tourism industry, and growing cities offer substantial room for new flavors, fusions, and innovations.
Through 2022, US food service is expected to grow 3%. With a vast array of food cultures across South Carolina, now could be a great time to start a restaurant or food truck.
Remember, though, that each business model has its own requirements, upsides, and downsides.
- Food trucks can be started on a smaller budget, but owners tend to pull longer hours with few to no staff.
- Restaurants have stable locations, but higher overhead, regulation, and investment requirements can make it more challenging to put together startup funds.
When figuring out where in South Carolina to start your food business, educate yourself on favorable areas, regulatory headaches, trends and diner preferences, and other current factors affecting the industry, such as:
- 2020 regulatory changes in some cities are causing headaches for food truck entrepreneurs
- Typical startup budgets for South Carolina food trucks may range: at least $30,000 to $50,000
- Median total restaurant startup costs are currently $375,000, with a typical range of at least $175,500 to $750,500. Actual cost will vary by business model and location, but expect your per-square-foot cost to range $100–800.
2. Start an IT Company
Forget Silicon Valley; how about Silicon Harbor?
South Carolina is an emerging tech hub, and major companies such as Google, Blackbaud, SAIC, and BAE Systems already call the Palmetto State home. Charleston especially ranks high in top spots for mid-sized cities booming with IT jobs that attract millennials. As you start and grow your South Carolina IT company, you can draw from a growing labor force.
The state also has incentives and other programs to encourage IT growth. Wondering what niche to start your business in? Consider growing sectors like human resources, IT, cybersecurity, and custom software.
3. Start a Grocery Store Business
From smaller stores like North Charleston’s urban farm and grocer nonprofit Fresh Future Farm, to multi-location spots like KJ’s Market in Quinby, Florence, and Johnsonville, the state is also home to the chain BI-LO and other major retailers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
Think through what sort of grocer you want to be. Do you want to buy into a supermarket franchise? Do cities like Charleston or Greenville suggest a specialty store, like a niche grocer in specific cultural foods or vegan groceries? Keep in mind, too, that there are different cost and profit structures for different types of stores.
4. Become a Freelance Writer
With little more than good internet access, a smartphone, a computer, and a home office space, you could set up shop as a freelance writer anywhere in the Palmetto State.
Freelance writing can take many forms. You could write about tourism in Myrtle Beach, or politics in Columbia. Companies always need business-to-business or business-to-consumer content. That’s true now more than ever in today’s age of social media, company blogs, email newsletters, and YouTube videos.
South Carolina’s booming business sectors may need freelance writers, too. Consider specializing in industries like life sciences, agribusiness, or logistics.
5. Become a Consultant
Sales, tourism, business, accounting, tech, and communications are all good fields for a consultant. If you have expertise in a field, you could consider becoming a consultant for that industry.
When you’re building a consulting business, it can help to have a network of contacts in your chosen industry. Also, make sure you’re willing to do the in-person and online work it takes to build and expand that network.
Worldwide, consulting was a half-trillion-dollar industry in 2019, and you can find profit opportunities for consulting in South Carolina. In 2020, for example, 7,215 consultants worked in South Carolina, and management consultants typically earned $34,310 – $110,310.
6. Start a Beauty Salon
South Carolinians know that the beauty salon isn’t just a place to get your hair done. Salons are also community gathering spaces — so much so that in 2020, many salons became hubs to encourage voter registration.
As you plan your beauty salon, there will be state laws and codes to comply with, especially after reopenings in May 2020, under expanded pandemic sanitation protocols. Also check the South Carolina Board of Cosmetology’s licensure requirements.
Keep in mind your salon startup costs, too, such as around $27,000 for equipment and up to $20,000 for consumable supplies.
7. Set up an E-Commerce Store
In 2020, over 265 million shoppers purchased goods online in the US alone, and that number is expected to grow even more by 2024. With the continued growth in online shopping, the time could be right for you to choose a niche and open your own e-commerce store, right from your home in South Carolina.
Identify what you want to sell and how you can market to customers. Work through the platform that will run your store (such as WooCommerce or Squarespace). Also review South Carolina’s rules for starting your business, and check the state’s registration and tax requirements.
Other great businesses to start in South Carolina
Great startups aren’t limited to the industries above, though. South Carolina entrepreneurs know the state is fertile ground for great ideas small business owners should consider. South Carolina is the home of many growing industries and sectors, and here are some other fields that may be ripe for opportunity:
- Advanced manufacturing: 18% job growth since 2011
- Distribution & logistics: Over $1 billion in capital investments 2011-2018
- Aerospace: annual economic impact, over $19 billion
- Alternative energy: Recycling, biomass, and other sustainability-focused energy companies are growing in South Carolina
- Biotechnology: Employing over 13,000
- Automotive: annual economic impact, over $27 billion
Ultimately, the best business to start in South Carolina is yours to decide. Choose a business model that’s been tried and tested, with low startup costs, and you’ll be on your way to helming a successful business venture.