The top industries and employers in the Columbia, SC metro area

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A view down Main Street from the state house steps. | Photo by COLAtoday

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More than 460,000 people (and thousands of businesses) contribute to the Columbia metro area’s $44 billion economy. But have you ever wondered about the capital city’s heaviest hitters?

Consider this Columbia Business 101 — your guide to our region’s five key industries and major employers.

Note: When we say Columbia metro area, that refers to the Central SC Region that includes Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, and Richland counties.

The key industries

There are five key industries that represent ~55% of the Columbia metro area’s economy, based on data from Central SC. We’ve listed them in order of employment numbers.

Health care and social assistance | 15%

Prisma Health Midlands and Lexington Medical Center are both top five employers in the region, employing over 21,000 individuals. The services in these industries are delivered by trained professionals and include establishments providing medical care, health care, and social assistance.

Retail trade | 12%

With annual sales of over 200 million, the Dick Smith Automotive Group in Richland County and Jim Hudson Ford in Lexington County are two of the largest businesses in the retail industry. The retail trade industry includes establishments that sell products and after-sale services related to these products, such as cleaning or repair.

Manufacturing | 10%

Manufacturing in Columbia comes in many different forms, but at the top of the list are Samsung, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, and Michelin. Local players such as Healthcare Us Co., which makes Memory Foam mattresses, and Westinghouse Electric Company, also carry a significant employment presence.

Accommodation and Food Services | 9%

In 2021, the Soda City welcomed over 15 million visitors according to the latest numbers from Experience Columbia SC — the marketing organization for the Columbia region. The economic impact of tourism on our region is substantial and generates $2.4 billion annually, $120 million in state and local taxes, and creates 21,000 jobs.

Public administration | 9%

The Public Administration sector consists of establishments of federal, state, and local government agencies that oversee and manage public programs. In total, the state of SC employs over 30,000 in the Midlands, the top two being the SC Department of Corrections and the SC Department of Social Services.

The major players

Now that we’ve established the major industries, we bet you’re curious for specific names. Whether you’re job hunting (or just “casually prospecting”), here are five major employersall that employ more than 5,000 workers on average.

State of South Carolina

32,085 employees | Public sector | Search jobs

With Cola being the capital of South Carolina, the city’s largest employer is the state — which helps drive tourism, the economy, business, and local government agencies.

Prisma Health Midlands

15,000 employees | Health care | Search jobs

In 2017, Greenville Health + Palmetto Health merged to become Prisma — and became the second-largest employer in Richland County and one of the largest healthcare providers in the region.

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina

10,998 employees | Insurance services | Search jobs

BCBSSC is the only SC-owned + operated health insurance carrier in the state and has a family of companies and affiliates also offering services to South Carolinians.

Lexington Medical Center

6,557 employees | Health care | Search jobs

The 557-bed hospital in West Columbia delivers more than 4,000 babies each year and performs more than 25,000 surgeries. It was also named one of the “Top 25 Best Hospitals to Work for in the U.S.,” according to the 2022-23 US News & World Report Best Hospital rankings.

University of South Carolina

6,456 employees | Educational services | Search jobs

The over 200-year-old university is the largest in South Carolina, and the nation’s number one first-year student experience. The university also boasts the country’s number-one ranking for international business via the Darla Moore School of Business. With its campus spread throughout the city, USC is the heartbeat of Columbia.

This information is derived from the most recent data published by Central SC.

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