Jason Ward, who sits at the helm of the Dorchester County government as county administrator, has helped shape the area’s significant growth since assuming the role at an uncommonly young age: 31 years old. In his twenty-year tenure, Ward has helped nearly double the county’s population, consolidate public services and provide clean water to rural communities.
Today, with nearly 170,000 residents spread across more than 500 square miles, Dorchester County is one of the largest and most populous areas in South Carolina. The county is also ranked among the nation’s fastest-growing relocation destinations.
As county administrator, Ward is responsible for coordinating all departmental activities, studying administrative procedures and organization, and recommending changes to improve the operations of county government. He is responsible for effectively implementing all decisions, policies, ordinances, and motions made by the County Council.
Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, Ward developed an appreciation for education and public service at a young age. His father worked in the local government and the two often ate lunch together at city hall. His mother was an avid supporter of their community, being involved in almost every aspect.
“We were always involved in the community,” Ward said. “Whether through Boy Scouts, a community car wash, or supporting the local band and athletic departments. For my parents, it was really important to be active members of the community, so public service is second nature to me.”
In college, Ward pursued a degree in sports broadcasting and found himself a natural in the recording booth. While working at his campus radio station, he announced basketball and football games, recorded a few commercials and was even offered an internship at the then New Jersey Nets. However, Ward realized that a commercial he aired during his radio broadcast was calling him back to public service.
“When I was working for the campus radio station, I used to play a public service announcement for the graduate feeder program at Florida A&M University. I would listen to this on my show repeatedly,” he said. “Finally, I decided to investigate the program and ended up going to the University of Kansas to study public administration.”
After receiving his master’s in public administration, Ward went to work for the government of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Only in his mid-twenties at the time, he assisted with budget preparation and oversaw 11 of the sprawling city’s 33 departments.
Three years later, in 2002, 30-year-old Ward applied to serve as the Dorchester County deputy county administrator and was selected. He excelled in his role and less than two years later applied to be county administrator. The city council recognized he would be an excellent fit, and just before his 32nd birthday, Ward assumed the role of county administrator.
“When you are given an opportunity at such a young age, there’s a lot of pressure,” Ward said. “People would say, ‘why’d you hire that young guy? Does he have enough experience? Is he the right person for the job?’”
Today, Ward has helped increase the county’s population — from 96,000 to over 160,000 residents- and streamlined vital public services, including opening three Dorchester County Fire Rescue departments and several state-of-the-art medical facilities.
He and his staff frequently interact with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accomplish county objectives. One of the organizations’ top collaborations is extending the Lake Marion Regional Water System. Since 2008, the partnership has brought reliable, clean, potable water to rural parts of Dorchester County. The project has also enabled the development of the Ridgeville Industrial Campus, which houses a new three million-square-foot Walmart distribution center that will create more than 1500 jobs.
“I remember the first time my boss told me we don’t have clean water. I said, ‘what do you mean we don’t have clean water?’ That was a realization for me, but I recognized that we could change that with the Lake Marion project. Working with the Corps, we were able to provide clean water. That allowed us to install fire hydrants, new parks and recreation. We landed Walmart!” Ward said.
Over his tenure with the area’s substantial expansion and development, one of his top priorities has been how to manage and prepare for growth. He and his staff created a master plan for the county and hope that the growth continues over the next twenty years.
“I see Dorchester County as a place where residents’ quality of life will only continue to improve. I think about the exciting things happening now with libraries, media centers and expanding broadband. People will have access to all of the modern amenities,” Ward said.
His goal is to provide residents with a better quality of life and a more robust sense of community. From experience, Ward knows how vital involvement in your community can be and how much it means to families.
“In the past, you might have needed to drive more than an hour each way for opportunities. Now, people can wake up and be on the job in 15 minutes,” Ward said. “When you get that time back, it means you can take the dog to the park, coach little league and simply spend more time with those you love. That’s when you start to see a true sense of community.”