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Greenville Business Magazine

From agribusiness to aerospace, what’s in store for Greenville in 2019?

Dec 28, 2018 10:03AM ● By Kathleen Maris
By John Jeter

Greenville’s economic-weather forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with a few headwinds, according to our informal survey. Representing some of the area’s largest employers, among the state’s leading sectors, four executives and one expert had plenty to say about 2019:

Let’s talk poultry, more specifically the House of Raeford. With 800 workers, Raeford ranks as the county’s 15th largest employer; standings here, by the way, exclude Greenville’s healthcare behemoths, state and county governments, and education.

In 2018, the privately-held company topped $1 billion in revenue. That’s not chicken feed. Agribusiness harvests South Carolina’s biggest economic impact, exceeding $41 billion; aerospace and automotive account for $36 billion combined, according to the state Department of Commerce.

Next year may not look like poultry in motion, says Dave Witter, the company’s manager of corporate communications and sustainability, because beef and pork have temporarily plucked chickens’ feathers.

“We expect 2019 to be rather flat in terms of growth. The entire chicken industry is going through a downtrend in markets right now,” he says. “These market conditions usually cycle like this every few years, so we anticipate a return to upward growth in 2020.” 

Moreover, despite pressures from low unemployment, wages, and healthcare costs, the Rose Hill, N.C.-based company plans a capital investment up to $5 million at its Rutherford Road plant next year.

One of Greenville’s top-flight employers, Lockheed Martin, is jetting ahead. 

Despite losing an Air Force contract worth as much as $9.2 billion, which Boeing won in September to build 351 training jets and 46 flight simulators, the Bethesda, Md.-based company anticipates more hiring here. The defense contractor currently employs around 500 people in Greenville.

Next year’s production of the F-16 fighter jet will create 150 new jobs, says Mike Fox, Greenville’s new product operations director.

Lockheed celebrates its 35th anniversary at its now-276-acre site at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, where the manufacturer also builds and modifies C-130 Hercules, C-5 Galaxy, and P-3 Orion military aircraft.

“This is an exciting time for Lockheed Martin and the Greenville community as we look forward to growing our existing operation,” Fox says.

Healthcare & Biomed
The biggest news of 2019 is the coupling of the Greenville Health System and Palmetto Health, creating the largest such provider in the state, with nearly $4 billion in revenues and some 30,000 employees. 

Officials from neither organization could be reached for comment, but Martine LaBerge, chair of Clemson University’s Bioengineering Department, says business here is in good health—perhaps even too good.

“One of the biggest challenges moving forward will be supplying industry with all of the engineers it needs as the state emerges as a major force in the health and biomedical industries,” she says. She cites enrollment in bioengineering programs, which shot up 113 percent from 2009 to 2018 with 468 students.

She also pointed to a major development in Anderson County, where Arthrex, a Florida-based manufacturer of orthopedic devices, is expected to complete a $74 million manufacturing facility that will employ 1,000 people next year.

“That’s going to continue to show that the Upstate is a hub for the biomedical industry,” she says.”

TD Bank, the fifth-largest employer in the county—again, after government, healthcare, and education—sees continued growth, despite an anticipated Fed interest-rate hike of a full 1 percent in the next 12 months.

“We don’t expect those increases to negatively impact our clients’ businesses or their decision to make future investments,” says Cal Hurst, regional vice president of the Maine-based bank, the ninth largest in the U.S.

“One potential headwind to the Upstate’s continued growth is the effect of current trade policy on jobs and local businesses; however, people and companies continue to move into our market,” he says.

Bob Stegner, senior vice president of marketing North America for SYNNEX, sees a game-changer: 5G, the next generation in high-speed data expected to arrive next spring.

“Rapid development and growth are happening in mobility, cloud, and the internet-of-things, where SYNNEX saw triple-digit growth in 2018,” says Stegner, whose California-based company recently marked its 125th consecutive profitable quarter. “That’s only going to accelerate with 5G.”

“The IT industry in the U.S. is growing faster than the overall economy, but you can’t afford to get complacent,” he says.

Seeming to sum up the sentiments of the others here, he notes: “There are always going to be occasional headwinds—from an economic and geopolitical standpoint—and disruption. Those who embrace disruption can thrive on it.”