Upstate groups plan for foreign direct investment

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Upstate SC Alliance plans to boost wages and spur economic growth by attracting more foreign direct investment to the region, leaders announced during its annual meeting in Greenville.

“What we’re seeing is to be unconnected is to fall behind,” said Upstate SC Alliance Director of Research Elizabeth Feather. Though foreign firms represent 5 percent of total US employment, they represent 19 percent of corporate research and development, 20 percent of total US exports and pay employees significantly higher salaries than average, she said.

The plan includes five strategies for growing foreign direct investment, including forming taskforces, building a technology exchange platform and creating a talent attraction app to market the region. The foreign direct investment strategy tacks on to en export growth plan announced last year. The five-year joint project with the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase aimed to help Upstate companies recognize and plan for export opportunities.

“There’s been a dramatic increase in foreign direct investment…but the US is flat as a whole,” said Markek Gootman, director of strategic partnerships and the Global Cities Initiative for the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “There needs to be a deliberate effort… and this region is one of the undergoing an intentional international strategy.”

Upstate SC Alliance recognized the crippling effect of the Upstate’s weak professional services sector. Businesses in the Upstate look for out-of-region professional services at twice the rate of Atlanta and Charlotte. The lack of a strong services sector contributed to Sealed Air’s decision to relocate 700 Upstate jobs to Charlotte, according to the report.

Upstate metropolitan areas already rank relatively high for share of workforce with foreign-owned companies, with Spartanburg third (18 percent), Anderson seventh (13.4 percent) and Greenville 67th (6.1 percent). The average foreign company share of domestic employment in the Upstate sits at 10.6 percent, said Upstate SC Alliance Director of Business Recruitment Jacob Hickman.

Gootman said the dominant form of foreign direct investment today came in the form of mergers and acquisitions, but more was possible through partnerships and expansions.

“This region is one of the first undergoing an intentional international strategy,” he said. “Through this process, there’s been the realization that any city can be a global city.”

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Key takeaways from the regional foreign direct investment plan:

 

While known for big wins, the Upstate’s FDI also reflects national trends

Collaboration is what companies are seeking, and where the Upstate excels

The region’s manufacturing base and FDI success position it as a key hub in the global value chains of its target industries

The region’s underdeveloped service sector hinders its competitiveness as an international business location

The emerging innovation ecosystem is an opportunity for advanced materials

The most important firms are the ones we already have

Attracting and retaining talent is increasingly important

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