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Columbia Business Monthly

Newberry County: Building Reputation as a Manufacturing Community

Oct 02, 2017 10:51AM ● By Makayla Gay

By Kristine Hartvigsen

Like the quieter, next-generation Samsung washing machines soon to be produced in Newberry County, officials have been conducting discreet outreach for the projected 950 jobs to be filled when Samsung’s new $380 million manufacturing plant is fully operational in 2018.

“We have had three job fairs already for Samsung — one in Chapin, one in Newberry, and one in Laurens,” says Rick Farmer, director of Newberry County Economic Development. “We’re doing them quietly because they have filled up so quickly that we quit doing publicity.”

No doubt, there is high interest in the Samsung jobs, and Farmer says that recruitment will be ongoing; some 300 to 400 workers will be hired initially. A part of the SC Technical College System, readySC is working with county officials to organize the job fairs and prepare workers for employment. “readySC is awesome,” Farmer says. “readySC helps us win economic development projects.”

Samsung is renovating the former Caterpillar manufacturing building for its appliance manufacturing operation. The immediate availability of the building was a key selling point for Samsung. “That building wasn’t even empty for one day,” Farmer says. “The same day Caterpillar moved out, Samsung was moving in.”

The Roman philosopher Seneca famously said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. With multiple industrial sites prequalified ahead of time, Newberry County has been and continues to be prepared for growth — much of it expected to spin off from existing business investors. For example, once Samsung is fully established, it is only logical that many of its suppliers will follow.

“We want to be sure we are ready on the ground,” Farmer says. “We are only in the early stages now. When you land a big project like Samsung, you always hope there will be significant impact.”

To begin, it is critical that prospects have a positive site-selection experience. In late 2016, MM Technics, a German automotive supplier for BMW, became the first tenant of Newberry County’s 450-acre Mid-Carolina Commerce Park. The company is building a 40,000-square-foot plant to be operational by the end of this year and employ 65 within five years.

“Our site selection process was long and difficult, but in the end, we found that Newberry County had the right site and the right community for us,” MM Technics President Meinolf Muhr said in a statement. “We thank the county and its leadership for guiding us through the process and solving every problem that presented itself along the way. We look forward to a very long and prosperous relationship with the county, the state, and our customers.”

Another site that’s primed for occupancy is Newberry County’s 2,000-acre megasite off I-26 featuring land already surveyed, tested, studied, and precertified for economic development by the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“Designed as a single-user site, the it is ideal for a massive project somewhere down the road, perhaps an automotive manufacturer like BMW,” Farmer says. “It is increasingly important that serious industrial sites are certified. It removes or at least minimizes risk. The more vetted and ready a property is, the higher the chances of developing it.

“It’s kind of like a lottery ticket,” he says. “It might not happen today, but when it does, it’s going to be big!”  

Farmer is confident in what Newberry County has to offer prospective manufacturers. There is strong transportation infrastructure with interstate highway and rail access. It is ideally located between two easily accessible big cities. It has Newberry College, the Newberry Opera House, antique shops, and even some tourism. But most of all, Newberry understands manufacturing.

“We have had so much success in Newberry County because we are a manufacturing community,” Farmer says. “Manufacturing is what we do. More than 25 percent of our local workforce is engaged in manufacturing.…When we have a prospect, I emphasize that they also can tap into the larger Greenville and Columbia labor markets.”

According to Farmer, one of his county’s strongest selling points is its general quality of life. Crime in the area is low. Schools are good. And unemployment usually hovers just under four percent.

“This is a wonderful community. That really appeals to a lot of prospects,” he says. “We are enjoying fat times right now, but we are not resting on our laurels. Every single day we are working toward the next big project. Just stay tuned.”