By Ashley Boncimino, Sherry Jackson, April A. Morris
10 stories that shaped 2015
In 2015, how many critical conversations happened in the offices, conference rooms, construction sites and government halls throughout the Upstate? The answer is “a lot,” and it’s a tribute to the diversity and depth of the region’s business climate.
Between mergers and acquisitions, openings and closings, announcements of innovative new developments (and rumors of more to come) and concern over the infrastructure to support them all, the last 12 months have proven once again that change is the only thing we can depend on.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 stories that had the Upstate talking in 2015.
IMED (Innovations in Medical Economic Development) is the Greenville Health System Research Development Corporation’s plan to locate health care researchers, manufacturers and entrepreneurs along the Interstate 185 corridor to create a hub for health care innovation similar to the one created by CU-ICAR for automotive. The proximity to GHS’s main campus and Interstate 85 make it attractive, proponents say.
The vision is to locate facilities that would create a mixed-use environment, featuring research-and-development-focused areas, manufacturing centered spaces and an entrepreneurship cluster on up to 1,000 acres. Multiple entities have expressed interest in the concept, but none have announced plans to locate along the corridor.
NEXT expanded rapidly in 2015. In August, NEXT on Main opened its doors on the third floor at the Bank of America Building, providing much needed space for 12 of the 160 Upstate companies in the NEXT program.
The MIT-backed Venture Mentorship Program also kicked off in 2015. NEXT staff were trained at MIT and brought the program back to the Upstate. To date, 13 mentors and 18 ventures are in the program.
Later in 2015, the NEXT Manufacturing Center at 400 Birnie St. launched as an effort to provide small and startup companies competitively priced space needed to collaborate without signing long-term leases or purchasing large buildings that they’re not quite ready for.
Hot growth in Greenville
Greenville, and the entire Upstate, had unprecedented growth in 2015, and 2016 is looking to be just as busy. According the city of Greenville, as of Dec. 15:
- 1887 units completed (since 2010)
- 3014 units permitted and under construction
- 516 units submitted for permit
- 926 units planned with DRB or PC approval
- 71 units submitted to be reviewed at Jan. 2016 PC mtg
- 876 rooms existing
- 670 rooms planned
- 417 room under construction
Parking under construction:
- 474 spaces at ONE City Plaza Garage
- 630 spaces at Broad Street Garage
- 300 spaces at RiverPlace Garage Expansion
- New lot, West End Park and Ride Lot; opening in next 30 days
Greenville’s ticking sewer time bomb
With growth comes infrastructure issues, and Greenville’s hot button (aside from roads) is sewer capacity.
Put in place 100 years ago, Greenville’s sewer infrastructure is one of the oldest in the area. It contains about 330 miles of pipes, about 85 percent of which are clay.
A major challenge for both the city and wastewater treatment company Renewable Water Resources (ReWa) is stormwater – the runoff from rain and storms –commonly referred to as “infill and infiltration,” or INI, issues. Developers are also facing challenges with capacity, particularly in the West End.
This year, the city completed two large capital improvement projects to rehab nearly 5 miles of sewer lines at a cost exceeding $5 million. ReWa also undertook two major projects to replace sewer pipes and determine how to handle additional flow downtown. In 2016, both ReWa and the city have pledged to continue working to reduce the INI. City Council also enlisted a consultant to study the problem.
Proterra is California bound
After five years based in the Upstate, zero-emission electric bus maker Proterra moved its corporate headquarters from Greenville to Silicon Valley. Proterra also laid out plans for a new $8.4 million facility in Southern California that will double production capacity.
While the company will keep some production in South Carolina, many saw the announcement as a negative reflection of the state’s ability to retain advanced technology firms. The Greenville facility will become Proterra’s East Coast production facility, while the California headquarters and facility will “more efficiently serve its West Coast customers and attract Silicon Valley talent in the Bay Area from the aerospace and manufacturing industries in Southern California,” according to Proterra Vice President of Sales Matt Horton.
Downtown Greenville attracted an international headquarters this year with WYNIT Distribution’s decision to relocate from North Syracuse, N.Y. The news meant more than just 111 jobs, as Greenville has struggled to reel in big headquarters downtown in the past and losses of other Upstate office projects spurred a special initiative to attract high-skilled, well-paying white collar or professional services positions.
WYNIT Distribution took over pieces of the recently vacated Class A office space in the ONE building by Hughes Development. The company joins Greenville-based industry peers, Synnex and Scansource in the Upstate.
Michelin closes Anderson plant
Michelin North America said it would suspend operations at its 2-year-old earthmover tire plant in Starr, S.C., by the end of the year due to a slowdown in global market demand.
The Greenville County-based company will continue to manufacture the tires in its other facilities, and the 100 employees affected will be offered positions at Michelin’s other two plants in Anderson County. The plant produces giant tires as tall as 13 feet and weighing up to 5.5 tons for the global mining and construction industry.
UCB expands Upstate footprint
Greenville-based 108-year-old Palmetto Bancshares was acquired for $240.5 million by Blairsville, Ga.-based United Community Bank this year. United Community Bank President and COO Lynn Harton said the acquisition would accelerate the bank’s expansion into the Upstate, one of the fastest growing markets in the region.
The deal boosted United Community Bank assets to $9.4 billion from $7.7 billion, and brought it from the 39th to seventh largest bank in the 10-county Upstate by deposit market share, according to pro-forma FDIC data.
CertusBank closes up shop
Troubled Greenville-based CertusBank shuttered its doors in 2015, four years after its founders embarked on a strategy of buying up failed banks and one year after media reports based on shareholder letters citing exorbitant corporate expenses in the midst of persistent losses.
Following the reports, the bank fired three of its top executives, who filed an eventually dismissed lawsuit. This year, the bank sold its remaining divisions and deposits, and closed or sold its remaining branches to various institutions in the Southeast.
Berkeley County lands Volvo
Volvo Cars chose Berkeley County for the location of its first American factory this year, with plans to invest $500 million in the plant site and employ up to 2,000 people in the decade. The plant will have the initial capacity to produce 100,000 cars per year, with the first vehicle expected to roll off the assembly line in 2018.
The project is a huge win for South Carolina’s growing automotive cluster, as other Southeastern states competed intensely for the deal.