UNION COUNTY — Much of the $350 million in new capital investment and the more than 1,000 new jobs Union County has enjoyed over the past decade has been due to the growth and expansion of existing industry which is also playing a vital role in the recruitment of new industry to the county.
In looking back at economic development in Union County in 2017, Union County Development Board Executive Director Kathy Jo Lancaster said that “I think we’ve had a very good year.” Lancaster said one of the reasons for the success the county experienced in economic development over the past year is its program of support for the retention and expansion of existing industries. She said the county has focused on developing a mutual awareness and partnership with the local industrial sector with the goal of assisting its constituent industries increase their competitiveness and maximizing their growth potential.
Lancaster said the county’s commitment to retaining existing industry and facilitating its growth, expansion, competitiveness, and growth potential is especially important given the impact the growth of existing industry has on investment and job creation in the county.
“Every local developer knows that a strong business retention and expansion program should be a core component of their economic development plan because the majority of industrial growth comes from the expansion of existing industries,” Lancaster said. “Our existing industry has contributed over 80 percent of the county’s new investment and job creation through companies such as Gestamp, Gonvauto, Standard Textile, Haemonetics, Timken, and Vapor Apparel just to name a few.”
The contribution by existing industry to new capital investment and job creation was most recently demonstrated by Timken, which is investing approximately $2 million in the acquisition of new equipment at its Tyger River Plant. In addition, the plant announced in earlier this month that is is looking to hire an additional 30 employees to enable it to increase its production.
In addition to being responsible for much of the investment and job creation in Union County, Lancaster said existing industries are able to help the county in it efforts to attract new industry.
“By keeping our industry partners happy they become our best economic ambassadors,” Lancaster said. “They tell our story for us, why they came here, stayed here, and expanded here.”
Lancaster said that when a new industry looks at locating in Union County, they ask, first, if the county has an existing building or shovel-ready site they can quickly set up operations at; second, ask for information about the local workorce; and, finally, ask to speak to existing industry about the county. While the Development Board can answer the first questions, Lancaster said the request for information about the county from an existing industry can only be answered by one of its existing industries. She said this is why it is important for the county to support policies that facilitate the retention and expansion of existing industries so that the story they tell about the county is one that will help bring more industry to Union County and help keep them here.
A Story Of Success
That story has been one of continuing success over the past decade with Lancaster pointing out that since 2011 “five new companies have located in Union County and four of them have already announced expansion projects. Seven existing industries also announced expansion projects during that time as well. What that meant for Union County is over $350 million in capital investment and over 1,000 jobs and we’re still growing.”
A prime example of that continued growth, which Lancaster said has made 2017 “a really good year” for economic development in Union County, is the growth of the Gestamp manufacturing facility.
“Gestamp announced its second expansion which will serve BMW and Volvo,” Lancaster said. “That’s $129 million in new capital investment and over 130 new jobs.”
Lancaster pointed out that with its latest expansion, Gestamp has invested more than $270 million in Union County and created more than 400 new jobs and added nearly 1 million square feet of new infrastructure in the county.
Another example of the really good year 2017 has been in terms of local economic development has been the growth of Standard Textile. Lancaster pointed out that the company purchased the old Greenleaf building in 2016 and invested $6 million in its renovation to serve as its warehouse and distribution facility which opened this year, creating 11 new jobs. She said this is Standard Textile’s second expansion in four years and that more growth could be coming as the company is discussing the possibility of adding light manufacturing and more jobs in the near future.
The benefits, both actual and potential, of the county’s commitment to attracting and retaining industry and facilitating its growth is demonstrated by the arrival of GES Recycling which Lancaster said established operations here in 2016. Lancaster said the company invested $4 million in its Union County facility with the expectation of creating 21 new jobs. Furthermore, Lancaster said there have been discussions by the company about possibly making its Union County facility its headquarters in the United States. She said the company currently supports five US-based operations.
Additional signs of the success of the county’s business-friendly policies include the growth of the Belk Fulfillment Center which, since its opening in 2012, has more than trippled in size from 500,000 square feet to 1.6 million square feet. Since it opened, the center has gone from shipping out 30,000 units of merchandise a day during its first peak season in 2012 to a projected 215,000 units per day for its 2017 peak season. The fullfillment center’s workforce has also grown dramatically, going from approximately 400 employees at the beginning of October to more than 1,000 at the beginning of November when it was announced that the center was looking to hire an additional 800 employees.
The beginning of December saw the Dollar General Distribution Center announce that it was looking to hire 40 new workers to enable it to meet the growing demand for its services. The center currently ships out an average of 1.3 million cartons of merchandise a week to the Dollar General stores of South Carolina, a number that could increase as Dollar General’s chain of convenience stores continues to grow. The expected growth will require distribution center to increase the size of its workforce in order to keep up with the increased demand for the merchandise sold at the stores.
Lancaster said the county is very fortunate to have the Belk Fulfillment Center and the Dollar General Distribution Center as they represent the growth of its logistics industry clusters, but also have a strong presence at the local level as well in terms of capital investment and job creation.
Industry Impact Award Winners
The positive impact of existing industry in Union County was recognized in May when Governor Henry McMaster announced that three local industries were the receipients of South Carolina’s Industry Impact Award for 2017.
Vapor Apparel, Standard Textile, and Gestamp were selected to represent small, medium, and large industries among the State’s Tier IV counties. These industries were honored based on their impact to the community, state, and region through capital investment, job creation, product innovation, sales growth, and stewardship.
In less than a week, 2017 will be history, and 2018 will begin and the new year is expected to bring some good news for economic development in Union County.
“On the horizon, I forsee we’ll have a couple of announcements in the first quarter of 2018,” Lancaster said, though she declined provide further details on what those announcements would be and how much they would mean in terms of new capital investment and new job creation.
Charles Warner can be be reached at 864-762-4090.