Johnson: Textile industry returning to South Carolina

Charles Warner Editor

September 13, 2013

UNION COUNTY — A textile industry that moved overseas is making its way back to South Carolina and the Upstate according to the head of the Upstate SC Alliance.

The Upstate SC Alliance is a public/private regional economic development organization designed to market the 10 counties — Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg and Union — of Upstate South Carolina to the world.

“The purpose of the organization is to market and brand the 10 counties of the Upstate to attract new business opportunities and also to work with existing companies to convince their corporate locations to expand within their facilities in our region,” Upstate SC Alliance President/CEO Hal Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson made these remarks during an address to Union County Council in which he discussed the Alliance’s efforts to market the Upstate and trends in industry that will have an impact on the economy of the region including Union County. One of those trends is the return of the textile industry which in the 1990s began leaving the United States for other countries such as China.

The movement of the textile industry overseas was particularly devastating for Union County whose economy had been heavily dependant on textiles for most of the 20th century. Several local mills closed in the years that followed resulting in the elimination of hundreds of jobs.

Johnson told council that the movement of textile manufacturing overseas is now reversing with companies looking to return to the United States. He said that four companies are currently looking to return to South Carolina and the Alliance is working to bring as many of them as possible to the Upstate. Those companies, however, will be different from the ones that left.

“We’ve been effectively marketing across all our target areas of which textiles fits into our advanced materials sector,” Johnson said. “So we do expect to have companies that are textile in orientation locate in the Upstate and in South Carolina. We expect to have a great number of them. The reason for that is we have a great history in textiles.

“Interestingly, we see that what we will have come back will not be what we lost,” he said. “What that means is we lost many positions that were low skill in orientation and what will return will be high-skilled, high value added jobs.”

Johnson pointed out that textiles are only one part of one of five industry sectors the Alliance is marketing the Upstate to. He added that manufacturing is only one part of the industries the Alliance is hoping to attract to the Upstate.

“We’ve expanded our efforts into five core industry efforts — automotive, advanced materials, aerospace, bioscience, and energy,” Johnson said. “We’re not focusing on manufacturing specifically, but the entire vertical chain of an industry sector which includes headquarters, back office, logistics, manufacturing, and supply chain. There are some areas that are better suited for manufacturing, some that are better suited for headquarters, and those communities that are investing in those areas are better suited to attract the specific area of interest in that vertical chain.

“For example, there’s a lot office product that’s available in Greenville, Greer, and Spartanburg, so typically those companies are going to look at where that office product is available,” he said. “If that same company had a manufacturing need, then it would consider areas that had available product that fit the manufacturing needs of the company. It may mean a speculative building, an industrial park or an existing building that may have been vacated by a company that formerly manufactured in it.”

Johnson said that the Alliance’s marketing efforts are global in nature and take several different forms.

“It’s been very successful, given the aspects of the market and the economy,” Johnson said. “We have to take assets of our region, both human and physical, and share with companies no matter where they’re located about opportunities that may exist for them to be profitable here.

“We have five main focusing areas,” he said. “First is our web presence; the second is emarketing; the third is research and strategic industry strategies that typically have a geographic focus as most of these industries cluster in certain countries around the world; the fourth is face to face marketing; and the fifth is hosting in-bound events and visits for those companies who show interest in our area.”

While the Alliance is marketing the Upstate throughout the world, Johnson said companies in Asia, particularly China, are especially interested in investment opportunities in America. He said the Alliance has been working for nearly a decade to attract investment from Asia to the Upstate, an effort that has already yielded success and will likely yield more in the years to come.

“Asia as a whole is showing great interest in investment in the U.S.,” Johnson said. “Those core countries are Japan, China, and Korea. China definitely has its own set of reasons for investing, and one of those is the central government has asked private business to expand its market outside the Chinese borders. They are looking at the U.S. and they are looking at our region.

“We’ve actually been working for the last 8 1/2 years educating companies and leadership in China about the opportunities of doing business in the Upstate,” he said. “There are now 12 Chinese companies in the region and that number stands to grow significantly in the next coming years.”

Johnson pointed out that when it comes to working to recruit new investment the Alliance has an excellent partner in the Union County and Supervisor Tommy Sinclair and the Union County Development Board and its executive director, Andrena Powell-Baker.

“The unemployment numbers have come down since 2010 and so what’s happening to Union County is that Union County has done a lot of things right over the years,” Johnson said. “It has built an incredible economic development team with, first, Stanley Vanderford who was wonderful, and now, in Andrena Powell-Baker, a young lady who has incredible energy and really puts a great face on Union County.

“She has built upon what Stanley Vanderford started and is selfless in her efforts,” he said. “She’s an incredible team member of the Upstate Alliance and she leverages her leadership from her county supervisor to her board members to her existing industry leaders to put Union’s best foot forward. Andrena has worked closely with the county supervisor and he helps facilitate taking it from strategy to action. Tommy has been wonderful.”

Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at cwarner@civitasmedia.com.