October 31, 2018

The Index Journal, Adam Benson

State and regional business development officials took a deep dive Tuesday into the inner workings of Greenwood County’s economic foundation, emerging with findings that could dramatically impact future growth.

“Greenwood has always been a very progressive and visionary community, putting infrastructure in the ground to attract global companies, and now you’re investing in a new infrastructure, and that’s workforce,” said Nelson Lindsay, director of global business development for the state Department of Commerce.

His remarks came during the Greenwood Partnership Alliance’s annual meeting and 20th-anniversary celebration, which provided investors and civic leaders with a forward-looking agenda.

“I think there’s a very unique labor narrative here in Greenwood, and you need to continue that trend,” said Beth Land, a vice president with the national Site Selection Group.

The 2017-18 year saw 197 jobs and $72.8 million worth of development, including major expansions at legacy companies such as Fujifilm and Lonza, while new firms, such as Caterpillar, announced an entry into the region.

Dan Martins, plant manager for Teijin — which broke ground in June on a $600 million plant that will bring 220 jobs to the region — said Greenwood County’s history of business-friendly government combined with workforce development initiatives makes the area a unique draw.

“The culture of the workforce here is extremely strong and dedicated, and that’s key for us. We want to partner with the other manufacturing companies here. We don’t compete against each other It doesn’t do us any good to steal workers from everybody else,” he said.

Since major manufacturing is now the backbone of Greenwood’s economy, developing talent early on — through apprenticeships and programs such as Greenwood Promise, is vital to ensure the long-term viability of employers, said Todd Dalton, senior manager of human resources for Fujifilm.

“The Greenwood Promise is going to be a big boon for making sure we have those people ready for manufacturing jobs. The folks we’re looking for now are highly educated, have good technical skills and can work together,” he said.

When the public-private endeavor was formed in the late 1990s, the region was reeling from the loss of its mills, Partnership Alliance board member Frank Wideman III said in a commemorative video shown on Tuesday.

“Demise of the textile industry severely impacted Greenwood, so we had a displaced workforce. But over the last 20 years, we’ve been able to significantly retrain a good portion of that and staff new industry in the community,” he said.

In August 2017, Ascend Performance Materials unveiled a $6.2 million facility expansion, bringing with it 24 jobs.

Michael Walters, Ascend’s site operations manager, said the investment was made possible because of Greenwood County’s pro-business track record — a reputation that’s known across the state.

But, he added, better marketing is needed around the county’s school system, and officials should look for ways to finance high-tech training programs in areas such as mechatronics.

“As we get more companies into the area, that’s going to be a need moving forward,” he said. “We don’t want that to be a tight market.”

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.