A Healthy Economy: Greenwood County looks to build on life sciences base
By Richard Breen
As demand for health care grows and medical advances stretch from research to manufacturing, life sciences has become an inviting target industry for economic developers seeking to attract jobs and investment.
While some communities are learning as they go, Greenwood County has in one way or another made life sciences a priority for decades. It’s paying off in high-tech jobs and multi-million-dollar investments.
Statewide, the life sciences industry has an $11.4 billion annual economic impact, according to SCBIO, an industry association.
“This diverse industry is well established in major South Carolina metro areas such as Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston,” says Sam Konduros, president and chief executive of SCBIO. “However, there are smaller communities that are also making very significant strategic ripples—none more so than Greenwood.”
SCBIO lists Greenwood Genetics Center, Clemson University Center for Human Genetics, Self Regional Healthcare System, Lonza, Cardinal Health, and Piedmont CMG as major industry players in the county. Heather Simmons Jones, chief executive of the Greenwood Partnership Alliance economic development organization, says several of those firms have made capital investments recently. She also mentions investments by the Wesley Commons retirement community and Greenwood Rehabilitation Hospital.
“By these investments, taxes are being generated in Greenwood County and jobs are being created to support this growth,” she says. “At another, more personalized level, access to healthcare is important for lifestyle considerations such as where to live and raise a family, where to work, and ultimately where to retire.”
The Partnership Alliance lists Self Regional and its 2,284 employees as Greenwood County’s top job creator. Lonza, a capsule manufacturer, is sixth with 600 workers. Cardinal Health, a medical products and services company, ranks ninth with 500 employees. Wesley Commons (290 employees) is 14th, and Greenwood Genetic Center (125 employees) is 17th.
One of the latest additions to Greenwood’s life sciences family is Clemson’s Center for Human Genetics. It opened in August 2018 in a 17,000-square-foot facility on the Greenwood Genetic Center campus.
The 11 members currently working there are expected to grow to 70, according to Dr. Robert Anholt, a biochemist and neurogeneticist at the center.
“The center is dedicated to determining the complex genetic underpinnings of both rare and common genetic diseases,” he says. “Scientists at the Clemson Center for Human Genetics work together with research scientists at the Greenwood Genetic Center using the fruit fly and zebrafish as powerful genetic and developmental models.”
The Partnership Alliance is currently marketing the campus to attract diagnostic- or research-intensive startups.
Also in 2018, Lonza announced a $46 million, 50,000-square-foot expansion of its Greenwood County operations that would add 30 jobs over five years. The former Capsugel facility, which was acquired by Lonza in 2017, makes empty capsules and finished dosage forms for biopharma and health/nutrition companies.
With demand for labor increasing, the county has launched initiatives such as the Greenwood Edge, in which students can earn a manufacturing production technician certificate through Piedmont Technical College while still in high school.
“They’re ready to go with an operator job at an employer like Lonza, for example,” says Dr. Jack Bagwell, vice president of academic affairs at Piedmont Tech.
There’s also a strong job market in nursing, pharmacy, radiology, and respiratory therapy.
“We don’t have any problem placing our students,” says Tara Gonce, dean of health sciences at Piedmont Tech.
Since 2012, four rural South Carolina counties—Bamberg, Barnwell, Fairfield, and Marlboro—have seen their hospitals close. In Greenwood, however, Self Regional is not only healthy but also operating the hospital in neighboring Edgefield County.
Self Regional, says Dr. Jan Probst, distinguished professor emerita with the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, “is large enough to draw people from surrounding areas and be self-sustaining. Plus, I think you’ve got a little bit of synergy.”
That synergy began with the family the hospital is named after. In 1942, Greenwood Mills founder James C. Self created a charitable foundation that led to the opening of Self Memorial Hospital in 1951.
“The foundation actually built and owned the hospital,” says Frank Wideman, Self Family Foundation president. “It’s now a county-owned hospital.”
Self’s son, Jim, helped found the Greenwood Genetics Center, which opened in 1975. The hospital helped attract Clemson to the center—Clemson’s facility is named Self Regional Hall.
Wideman says Jim Self was one of the state’s first textile executives to welcome other industries.
“Jim understood the value of diversifying the economy,” he says. “He also understood the value of a knowledge-based economy as part of that diversification.”