Selling Greenville County
By Leigh Savage
Tavia Gaddy, project manager at Greenville Area Development Corp., believes Greenville is different from the rest of the world. "It truly works as a team," she says. "There are very few places where economic development is a team sport, but in Greenville, it truly is."
Gaddy has worked at GADC for 14 years, and she relishes the opportunity to recruit new industry to Greenville and to assist existing industry with expansion. She and her cohorts often team up with The Upstate Alliance, the South Carolina Department of Commerce and other organizations to track down leads and make the case that companies should locate here.
Established as a nonprofit in 2001 by Greenville County Council, GADC's efforts have helped create more than 23,000 jobs and bring in more than $4 billion in capital investment. While the organization is largely funded by tax dollars, it receives additional funding from private investors.
Gaddy says one of the biggest selling points for Greenville - in addition to its attractive location and amenities - is its track record of success with public-private partnerships. "When I'm trying to recruit a company, and I reach out and ask someone to help, there is no one that has said, ‘I can't do that,'" she says, including staff members at other companies and organizations. "It's a team effort."
The one factor that Greenville shares with every other municipality-at least prior to Covid-19-was workforce deficiencies. "Greenville is sought-after, and a great place to be, but we have to make the case on labor," she says. "Everyone is having to make the skilled labor case."
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically affected the work of GADC, as it has for every business organization, and while skilled labor will remain a priority, Mark Farris, president and CEO, says county unemployment, which was 2.6 percent in February, is rising, with more than 56,000 applications for unemployment by early May. "We have recently focused on trying to be an information resource for many companies that struggled to find definitive answers about everything from employment testing to facility cleaning and decontamination. And as odd as it sounds, I believe now is the exact time to push projects instead of recoiling."
GADC is looking for new business park sites and spec buildings in anticipation of the post-pandemic resurgence. And he says Gaddy continues to be a valuable resource no matter how the job pivots. "I hear often from companies that she is a pleasure to work with and is one of the more congenial people they have met," he says. "Our business many times is dynamic and sometimes downright chaotic. Tavia has the ability to see the bigger picture by persevering and focusing on the needs of our clients, all for the benefit of Greenville County."
Gaddy grew up in Columbia and earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Grambling State in Louisiana before earning a master's degree in journalism at the University of South Carolina. She focused on broadcast journalism before realizing it was not the right fit. "A lot of people don't believe it, but I am shy by nature," she says.
Wanting a stable career less in the public eye, she started out doing marketing for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. "I didn't know I was doing economic development, but I was, and I enjoyed it," she says. She was selling the state, something she continued as manager of rural development at the S.C. Department of Commerce.
Then she landed at GADC, where she sells the county. "I enjoy convincing people why they should be here," she says. "I love meeting the people, selling the area. I love the partnerships we have with the municipalities, our chambers, our universities and our allies."
Last year, her career efforts were recognized when she was named to the board of the S.C. Economic Developers Association, which focuses on professional development and advocacy. She also serves as liaison for the women's committee.
"It used to be, there were just a few of us in the room, and we needed an outlet," she says of women in economic development. "Two years ago, some very engenious and capable women started the committee," designed to support women in the economic development field through mentorships and professional development. "It offers a sounding board, and helps us navigate the waters," she says.
She serves as a mentor, and also tries to reach out to a variety of younger women to check in and see if they need any guidance or support.
Another organization that she believes in is African American Leadership Greenville; she served as chair in 2018. Founded in 1999, the group grew from 39 members to more than 400 who contribute nearly $425,000 annually to the community, largely toward scholarships. The purpose of the group is to unite African American leaders in Greenville County under a banner of philanthropy, volunteerism and community change.
As part of AALG, she became involved with United Way's HOG Day, or Hands on Greenville. "It's the one day of the year that you know everybody is doing something for somebody," she says. "It shows how people rally together in Greenville."
As for current projects and plans at GADC, Gaddy says most of her work is top secret. "When we have companies looking at an expansion, or relocation, we don't want to cause any panic, so we don't discuss it (publicly)," she says. "Our number one priority is the employee."
But she will continue selling Greenville to prospective employers, and working with them once they are here. "Once you get to Greenville, your relationship with GADC does not end," she says. "We will continue making sure you get what you need."