Matthew Brownlee was raised in Hickory Tavern, a small town at the intersection of highways 76 and 101 in Laurens County. Fishing and hunting amid the bucolic surroundings of his family’s 120-acre farm, the hustle and bustle of metro Greenville seemed light years away.
Which indeed it was—until the last few years, when the southernmost fringe of greater Greenville jumped the border into Laurens County, and has now begun its inevitable march down Interstate 385 toward the town of Laurens itself. With affordability at a premium, buyers looking for starter homes are searching farther and farther away from downtown Greenville, a quest that in some cases leads them to a quieter, more rural county best known for the ferocious battles it saw during the American Revolution.
“I knew it was going to grow eventually, just because of how close we are to Greenville. I knew it was going to come down that way at some point,” said Brownlee, a real estate agent in the downtown Greenville office of Allen Tate Realtors. “But these last five years, it’s been really great. Business is booming right now in Laurens County, and it’s going to be booming more in the future, and there are going to be a lot of opportunities there because of it.”
The center of new home construction in Laurens County is its northwest corner, not coincidentally also its closest point to Greenville. The southern half of the town of Fountain Inn is in Laurens County, and that’s where three new communities are springing up: Winterbrook by Great Southern Homes with prices starting at $283,900, Southgrove by Liberty Communities with prices starting at $290,900, and Durbin Oaks by Ryan Homes with prices starting in the mid-$200,000s.
From Fountain Inn to Clinton
But the development is not stopping at Fountain Inn. In late 2020, the city of Laurens approved the sale of a 66-acre tract to SK Builders, which Brownlee says plans to construct around 130 homes with prices starting at under $200,000. And in mid-2021, an economic development group in Clinton—46 miles from downtown Greenville—sold 75 acres originally planned as an industrial park to D.R. Horton to build approximately 260 homes with prices ranging from $180,000 to $290,000.
“The property taxes are a huge thing—they’re a lot less expensive in Laurens County,” Brownlee said. “And it’s good that there are new home communities going up in Laurens. Because those people who wanted to live real close to downtown Greenville, when the pandemic came, they were at home a lot more. They started to realize that they didn’t mind being 30 minutes away from their jobs in Greenville if they were able to find more privacy and a less expensive way of living in Laurens County.”
The median sales price in Laurens County in January was $285,500, according to the Greenwood Association of Realtors. That’s a relative bargain compared to median prices in communities farther north: $335,000 in Fountain Inn and Simpsonville, $353,750 in Mauldin, $360,000 in the city of Greenville north of downtown, and $650,000 in central Greenville, according to the Greater Greenville Association of Realtors.
And it’s not just residential development migrating down the I-385 corridor. The new home construction was preceded by the development of several speculative industrial parks in Laurens County, built to try and capture a share of the manufacturing and distribution market that’s helped transform the Upstate into an economic powerhouse in the post-textile era. Successes so far include a $19.4 million investment from Shamrock Technologies and an $18 million investment from Blue Diamond Industries.
“That northern part of Laurens County, specifically Fountain Inn and Gray Court, it has plenty of product,” Brownlee said. “And what I mean by that is, there’s plenty of space left in those industrial parks, and they’re just ready for employers to come in and put their businesses there. You’re 30 minutes from Greenville, so close to Columbia and Augusta and Charlotte, so accessible from the interstate. That and its affordability makes Laurens a magnet, and everyone knows Greenville is running out of land.”
A big change for the locals
The peace and quiet of Laurens County today belies what was a tinderbox during the American Revolution, with seven notable skirmishes or battles fought within the county’s modern-day boundaries. None were more important than Musgrove Mill along the Enoree River, where 200 Americans ambushed and routed a far larger British force that believed it had crushed all resistance, boosting Patriot morale and setting the stage for the decisive battle in Cowpens four months later.
Things are a bit calmer these days. But for longtime Laurens County residents, the coming influx of new home construction and industrial development is sure to bring a change; after all, the county’s population of 67,000 is roughly that of the city of Greenville, so locals are used to plenty of elbow room. As far as the U.S. Census Bureau is concerned, Laurens County has always been part of the metro Greenville area—it’s just never really felt like it until recently.
“For people like me that have lived there their whole lives, it’s a big change. It just depends on who you are, whether you like that change, or whether you don’t. I’m sure there are some people that are opposed to the growth, but I think most locals are on board with it,” Brownlee said.
“It’s just the fact of the matter that Greenville is growing and running out of room. Laurens will grow; we’ve just got to be there to support that growth so it can happen in the best way possible. Because we need that for the businesses and entire Upstate, just to make it better. But I think a lot of people are excited for it. A lot of the elected officials that I know in Laurens, they’re super excited for the growth, and all the jobs that it will bring in. So I think it’s really going to be a great thing.”