ABBEVILLE COUNTY: Sage AutomotiveJul 03, 2017 01:49PM ● By Makayla Gay
By L.C. Leach III
Shortly after the 2008 recession, when the newly created Sage Automotive needed operational sites, company representatives found not just one, but two places within four miles of each other in Abbeville County.
One was a building known as the Sharon Plant, originally built in 1968, and separated from a long stretch of Highway 72 by a grassy median and partly obscured by trees.
The second place, which became the Abbeville Plant and is located in the Abbeville city limits on Brooks Street, contained a sprawling brick structure built in 1895, with a tall smokestack, archway windows, and original wood flooring that still had traces of more than 100 years of past operations.
But since their opening in 2009, both sites have not only proved invaluable to the company’s production of automotive interior products, they have led to several Sage expansions and proved to be a key economic and community asset to the entire county.
“We are very fortunate to have Sage as an important part of our community,” said Jane Hannah, project manager with Abbeville County Development Services. “Combining the numbers from both the Brooks Street plant and the Sharon plant, they are our largest industrial employer.”
Since 2012, Sage has expanded the Abbeville County facilities four times, with capital investments totaling more than $10.5 million and a combined workforce of 388 – which represents 43 percent of the 900 total employees working in all of Sage’s four South Carolina plants.
“The Sharon plant is a world-class manufacturing facility that provides undyed fabric for Sage Automotive Interiors finishing plants located in S.C.,” said Sidney Locke, director of strategic marketing and communication at the company’s corporate headquarters in Greenville. “The Brooks Street site provides dyeing and finishing of automotive fabrics.”
Together, the two Abbeville County facilities occupy a combined interior space of 907,000 square feet (enough to hold almost 16 football fields), and a current capacity in each plant to produce an annual total of 19 million yards of woven automotive materials.
In the last expansion in 2015, the company invested in both equipment and technology upgrades to improve production of seating, door panels and headliners for more than 10 global automakers – including Honda, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan and Mercedes.
Outside the U.S., Sage employs about 850 people in global offices and manufacturing locations in Japan, China, Brazil, Korea, India, Thailand, Mexico, and Europe.
“Our core strengths are consumer research, sustainability and innovative problem solving for the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM),” Locke said. “And our vision is to be the market leader in design, engineering, and technical capability supported by world class manufacturing.”
One step toward that vision came in 2016 when Sage acquired the automotive manufacturing assets of Italy-based Apollo S.p.A., with the goal of expanding capacity and capability for automotive interior products to the European market.
“Europe remains a key growth area for us,” said company CEO Dirk Pieper. “In addition, the technology and capabilities that will now be part of Sage Automotive Interiors will strengthen our ability to serve customers from our current locations in Europe and the rest of the world.”
In South Carolina, Sage Automotive has allotted more than $30 million dollars in capital investments, with a significant portion of this investment directed toward the Abbeville County facilities.
But in addition to its solid business presence, Hannah added that Sage’s commitment to community improvement and advancement is almost as strong as its business quality.
For example, Sage currently supports 15 community interests, including Relay for Life, United Christian Ministries, Abbeville Rotary Club, Coats for Kids/Blankets for Elderly, the Abbeville Opera House, and the Lake Russell Tourism Coalition.
“Sage is a huge asset to many people here,” Hannah said. “And that’s been true ever since they moved here to be part of our county.”
When asked the original attraction to Sage locating two operations in Abbeville in 2009, Locke cited community work ethic as a major factor.
“Sage values the commitment and work ethic of South Carolina’s workforce and is thankful to its valuable associates,” he said.
As for the future of the two Abbeville County plants, Locke added that more expansions and growth and investment are a practical certainty.
“We continue to invest annually, and will spend in the millions of dollars in Abbeville during 2017 for equipment expansion,” Locke said. “This expansion relates to both capacity and technology capability upgrades. And all of it is in maintaining world class manufacturing facilities with the latest in innovative technologies to better and better serve our market.”