Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair was attending the WBCU Senior Expo on Thursday morning when his phone began to ring.
The news came as a shock to not only him but everyone else in the economic development community of Union County.
“We all were caught off guard,” said SC House District 42 Representative Mike Anthony during a special press conference at the Union County Courthouse on Thursday afternoon.
Sinclair immediately began rallying the troops after hearing the news that DisneyStore.com will consolidate its Jonesville distribution operations with another location in Memphis as of July 2011, closing the Union County facility.
The supervisor called the special press conference to let the people of Union County — especially those who work at the Jonesville distribution center — the county will do everything it can to not only fill that building with a new business or industry but to help those employees who will be displaced because of the consolidation.
He and Anthony were joined Thursday afternoon by Union County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Torance Inman, Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker and Union Workforce Center Manager Gus Soto.
The news will have an effect on Union County.
People will lose jobs, the facility could sit empty and the amount of tax dollars from that business for both the county and Union County School District will be lost.
Sinclair said the facility generates roughly about $200,000 in total tax revenue for the county and about the same for the school district, but did not have the exact figures by the time of the press conference Thursday afternoon. Because the facility’s doors will not close until July next year, that impact won’t be immediately felt.
“But for our long-term planning, it does have an impact,” the supervisor said, reminding the press he’s said all along during the county’s fiscal year 2010-11 budget process eyes need to turn to the future because the road looks a little more rocky as the years advance.
Sinclair admitted during the press conference he and his colleagues didn’t yet know all of the details and had not had a formal discussion with Disney but said they plan to do whatever they can to make the impact of this news felt less.
Anthony told the press he called South Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor Jr. right after hearing the news and was directed to tell the public the Department of Commerce is behind the efforts at the local level to get another company in that building and help those affected by the consolidation the most — the employees.
Taylor also told Anthony his department will do what it can to help get another business or industry in that Jonesville facility and added Union County is a great place for industry because of its location, infrastructure and workforce.
“We’re trying our best to take care of business even though this is not good news,” Sinclair said.
The county plans to aggressively market the Disney building to existing businesses, industries and manufacturers as well as those who might be interested in locating in Union County.
“We have had several discussions with existing industries looking at expansion possibilities,” Powell-Baker said, adding she’s also been in active contact with outside companies who might be interested in the Jonesville location. “We are positive we have some opportunities that could help.”
Sinclair said while the area on US Highway 176 where the Disney facility is located was looking at quickly developing into a distribution hub for the county, the building Disney occupies can be used for other purposes.
“It can be adjusted quickly to a manufacturing facility,” he said, adding if a manufacturer expressed interest in locating its operations here, “we would entertain them tomorrow.”
But with the new so fresh, there still are many aspects of the news not yet known.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now,” Sinclair said, but the main concern on everyone’s minds is the immediate impact to the employees at the Disney distribution center.
Soto said his office will be there to assist any and all employees of the Disney location if they need assistance in job seeking, filing for unemployment or other services. He added, while the economy still is not in the best shape, Union County has seen some turnaround in its unemployment numbers.
“We’ve been able to place about 1,200 people back into work in the last year,” he said.
He and his staff are working hard to get people back to work as soon as possible and said they are committed to giving any of the Disney employees the help they need.
Inman said the county has not been simply sitting idle and not reacting to the economic pressure its residents are facing. There are steps being taken to get new or expanded businesses here and he wants everyone in the county to know that.
“We’re working hard to generate and promote business and industry in Union County,” Inman said.
“We certainly wish Disney well,” Sinclair said but added as that corporation closes its door on Union County, he and his colleagues are going to do everything they can to open others.
“We want to assure folks that we are doing what we can do,” the supervisor said. “We’re not just sitting by.”