The Spark: Happenings in Upstate Biz with Trevor Anderson

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A few quick notes just in case you happened to miss the Greenville Area Development Corp.’s annual meeting May 9.

GADC, the entity responsible for promoting economic development in Greenville County, said the county netted 21 projects in 2017 worth $336,464,251 in capital investment and 1,842 new jobs.

That’s down a little bit from $425,906,565 and 2,639 jobs in 2016, and $394,735,000 and 2,118 jobs in 2015.

By comparison, Spartanburg County also landed 21 projects in 2017 worth $885 million and 1,789 new jobs, meaning Spartanburg had the edge this past year in investment and Greenville in jobs.

Of the 157 projects completed in South Carolina in 2017 worth $5.24 billion in investment and 18,445 jobs, Greenville accounted for more than 13 percent of the projects, more than 6 percent of the total investment, and almost 10 percent of the jobs.

Greenville has averaged $268,377,983 in investment and 1,394 jobs annually since 2001.

Two-thirds of the projects completed in Greenville in 2017 were expansions. The rest were new companies, according to GADC.

For the year, GADC said it was contacted by 126 companies. Manufacturers made up the bulk of those contacts (76 percent). Office/IT companies comprised 16 percent, and warehouse/distribution accounted for 6 percent. Research and development and unknown companies both accounted for 1 percent.

Fifty of the contacts, almost 40 percent of the total group, were Greenville’s target industry companies, GADC said. Fifteen were in the headquarters, office, and R&D category (30 percent); 13 were automotive (26 percent); 6 were each in the advanced materials, life sciences, and aviation categories (12 percent); and 4 were in logistics/distribution (8 percent).

Mark Farris, GADC’s president and CEO, acknowledged that the county’s economic development has begun to “soften” a little bit.

He said that trend could be due to a lack of inventory in terms of available sites or buildings, and the ongoing competition for labor that has been exacerbated by the region’s growth since the Great Recession.

“We still have a significant number of projects [in the pipeline],” Farris said. “We’re working on some bigger projects right now. There’s not a lack of activity. Not having a good inventory of available buildings has been an issue. But there are some spec buildings in the works that will really help. For us, the biggest factor is labor and if we can supply that labor.”

Farris said he is pleased with the types of manufacturers that are interested in Greenville.

“This isn’t your father’s manufacturing,” he said. “The automation and technology involved has completely changed the environment. The pay scales and skill sets have improved. These are environmentally conscious companies that are heavily focused on technology.”

While Greenville’s annual numbers might be on a downward swing, it’s important to remember that economic development is about playing the long game.

Companies like GE and Michelin North America don’t invest hundreds of millions of dollars every year, so fresh blood is paramount.

Quality of life — a huge factor that companies look at when deciding on a future home for their employees — in Greenville continues to improve.

It’s an encouraging sign that more advanced industrial and office firms are taking a good, long look at the county.

Provided the national and global economies remain stable, it should mean even more opportunities for Greenville and Upstate residents in the years to come.

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