From the outside, Spartanburg Community College’s Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Development looks like another industrial complex along the county’s bustling Highway 290 corridor.
But looks can be deceiving.
Local officials believe the facility is one of the most important tools in the county’s repertoire of economic development assets that has continued to attract new investment and, perhaps most importantly, jobs.
Since its inception in 2006, the center at SCC’s Tyger River Campus has supported the development of more than 15,000 jobs and close to $1 billion in wage earnings in Spartanburg, according to the college.
In total, 61 new and existing enterprises have utilized the 363,000-square-foot center to launch, expand or relocate their manufacturing, distribution and office operations in the county.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a company say ‘this is the reason we chose Spartanburg,’” said state Rep. Mike Forrester, R-Spartanburg, and director of economic development for SCC. “There’s nothing else like this that I know of.”
The center sits on 50 acres of what was once part of the corporate headquarters for One Price Clothing Stores Inc.
It includes several large warehouses and modern office space near the front of the building that features classrooms, computer labs, conference rooms and other workspaces.
SCC recently completed a 22,000-square-foot expansion of the office area aimed at raising the center’s appeal and efficiency.
“Adaptability is what makes this place so special,” Forrester said. “Whatever the company’s needs are, we can make it happen… A lot of work goes into economic development. It doesn’t stop when a company announces that they’re coming.”
A study conducted in 2015 that measured the center’s economic impact found it supported the creation of 2,766 jobs during the year and created a “ripple effect” that supported a total of 4,304 jobs.
Since 2007, the center has generated about $50 million in sales and income tax for the state, according to the study. And numbers for 2016 are still being finalized.
“It helps us differentiate ourselves from all other counties not just in the state but the whole country,” said Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt. “I don’t know of many other counties that have that tool in their toolbox. It is very important to us.”
Forrester said the center has four main functions.
The first function is to provide space for “soft landings” of foreign and domestic companies that are looking to relocate or add new operations in the county.
Japanese carbon fiber maker Toray is currently housing employees at the center while its $1.5 billion plant is under construction a few miles away.
Forrester said Kobelco stored equipment and trained employees at the center while its new plant on Highway 290 was being built. Rite Aid also trained employees while its distribution center was nearing completion.
“Whenever you can offer something that is beyond something else, it makes a statement about who you are,” Britt said. “We’re not just in the recruitment of companies, but also in the development of those companies.”
The next function, Forrester said, is to provide incubation space for new businesses that are in the early start-up phase or existing companies that need a place to retool and reorganize.
The center is a member of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Spartanburg Entrepreneurial Resources Network. It houses offices for the Clemson Regional Small Business Development Center and Service Corps of Retired Executives.
Henry Giles Jr., president of SCC, said the center is the 5th largest incubator in the U.S.
When Israeli manufacturer A.L. Industries sought the county’s assistance a few years ago in finding a suitable facility, Forrester said, the company was able to use the center on a short-term basis until it was able to establish its own plant.
“We didn’t have any (facilities) on the market,” Forrester said. “We told them we could get them started in our facility. They didn’t believe us… Their space (at the center) has been used (by three more companies) since then.”
The center’s third function is to support workforce development in the county. Agencies, including the state Department of Employment and Workforce and ReadySC, as well as companies, such as BMW, MAU Inc., and others, regularly use the facility to host job fairs.
Forrester said the center not only gives employers an opportunity to take applications and screen applicants, but it also allows agencies and companies to hold pre-employment training.
“You get to see (an applicant) in a work environment,” he said. “That’s very valuable to a lot of employers who have very high standards.”
The final function is something Forrester referred to as “special services.”
Under this service, companies and industry partners can receive assistance on special projects, such as beta testing a new product line or manufacturing process, training employees on new processes, or providing storage for equipment.
About 60 companies have used the center for its special services.
Forrester said BMW Manufacturing Co. came in and set up, tested and perfected one of its new paint shop processes and then “went and built their facility.”
“It’s like being in the pool with someone when you’re trying to teach them how to swim,” Britt said.
Local officials said they have received countless calls from other communities that are seeking input in developing center’s similar to SCC’s facility.
They said the center has benefitted relationships with companies that haven’t even used it. And they remember that the center almost didn’t happen.
Forrester and Giles said the college had a vision for the center, but were in need of a building to put it in.
SCC leaders sought help from county officials and together they began the search.
When the One Price building became available, Giles said the college was still working to get all of its “ducks in a row.”
They knew the facility wouldn’t sit on the market for long so they sought the help of Spartanburg businessmen Foster Chapman and George Dean Johnson Jr.
“We knew this was an opportunity we couldn’t miss,” Britt said. “It would’ve been like playing baseball without the ball and the bat. We knew companies would want this and need it.”
Johnson’s development company purchased the property and held it for six months until the college was ready to purchase it.
“It has really turned out to be the difference maker that it was envisioned to be,” Giles said.