Manufacturing remains the top economic driver in Spartanburg
By Dustin Waters
With regional job growth outpacing the national average over the past five years, Spartanburg County looks to capitalize on a strong private-public partnership to continue building success.
According to a report from economic data firm Emsi prepared for the Spartanburg Economic Future Group, 19,242 new jobs were added to Spartanburg County between 2013-2018. This represents an almost 15 percent increase, nearly doubling the national average over that five-year period.
Longtime economic developer and executive vice president for the Spartanburg Economic Futures Group Carter Smith credits this dramatic growth to the region’s continued heavy involvement in advanced manufacturing. In 2018, Synthomer, a top manufacturer of latex and speciality polymers based in the United Kingdom, announced plans for a $16 million expansion of the company’s Spartanburg County plant.
Last year also saw the birth of a new $48 million venture between Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited and South Korea-based Huvis Corporation to establish a state-of-the-art fiber manufacturing facility in Spartanburg County.
Of course, talking business in Spartanburg is incomplete unless you mention the automotive industry. Last year saw the announcement of three significant expansions in that sector amounting to more than $100 million in capital investments and almost 800 new jobs.
German automotive supplier DRÄXLMAIER looks to add 460 new jobs in the county, while mobility technology company Magna International is projected to grow their local operations by 130 workers and designer and manufacturer of automotive components Grupo Antolin will provide 150 new jobs.
“I think that from a Spartanburg standpoint, we’ve worked very hard through the years in terms of general product development,” say Smith. “Those are the things that get businesses and companies to look here—appropriate land sites, speculative building development, and infrastructure around those areas. We’ve been very fortunate and worked very hard to be fortunate in being sure we’re identifying those type of growth opportunities that will keep us well positioned for a number of years to come.”
The manufacturing industry in Spartanburg stands out dramatically in terms of overall employment. Currently, the area employs more than 30,000 workers in manufacturing positions. This total far surpasses the number of those employed in the public sphere, which stands as Spartanburg’s second largest industry sector.
Over the five-year period between 2013-2018, Spartanburg County added 4,380 manufacturing jobs, representing a 17 percent jump. Manufacturing jobs serve as some of the highest paying in the area, with the average worker earning $75,603 in 2018. Only those employed in the management, utilities, or finance and insurance sectors showed higher annual earnings that year.
The approach to education attainment in the region shows a clear impact of the local industries. While the number of Spartanburg County residents with a bachelor’s degree is almost 5 percent below the national average, the area is slightly above the national average when it comes to residents with associate’s degrees.
In 2016 alone, Spartanburg Community College awarded 1,680 degrees.This represents the second largest provider of higher education in the area in terms of graduates, with only the University of South Carolina Upstate awarding more degrees that year. According to Emsi’s county assessment, there were 3,240 graduates in Spartanburg County in 2017, representing a 2 percent drop in higher education attainment over the previous five years.
Retiring this June after an almost 40-year career, Smith has played a major role in Spartanburg’s growth. Estimated to have brought in more than $16 billion in new investments to the area and more than 50,000 new jobs, Smith recognizes that there is no single thing shaping Spartanburg’s economy. Instead, he attributes the region’s success to the strong sense of cooperation that exists in the area.
“We’ve had a very good public-private partnership effort. Obviously, our County Council is lead, and then when you couple that with the private side, it’s been extremely good in positioning Spartanburg to be successful in product development and looking ahead,” says Smith. “Our other allies, like the community college, those have helped position us in terms of workforce.”
He adds, “As our success grows, so does interest.”