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Greenville Business Magazine


Jul 03, 2017 02:22PM ● By Makayla Gay

By John Jeter

It could be said that Spartanburg County runs on athletic shoes. Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch, but adidas, the German-based sports-apparel behemoth, sends championship level numbers of footwear and clothing throughout North America from its sprawling distribution facility just off Interstate I-85—creating hundreds of jobs and lacing up community teamwork.

“When you think of sports, adidas is always a badge that’s recognized extremely well and extremely favorably,” says Carter Smith, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Futures Group. “And it brings a lot of recognition to us. When we’re talking to international companies, we can say adidas is here.”

The company started in 1924 out of a wash kitchen in a town just outside Nuremberg, Germany, before going on to sponsor track legend Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. Adidas arrived in Spartanburg in 1986 before expanding in 2008 its current 260-acre home on Falling Creek Road.

From there, each year some 300 employees and 2,300 contractors ship 55 million pairs of shoes and 65 million units of apparel—about 80 percent of adidas’s North American sales and 20 percent of the global output. Overall, the sporting giant generated more than $21 billion in revenues last year from 160 countries.

The Spartanburg facility, with several buildings in a federally designated foreign trade zone, houses about 2.3 million square feet under one roof, roughly a third the size of the Pentagon, one of the world’s largest office buildings. Inside, employees of every stripe range from white-collar professionals in finance, IT, customs, and customer-service departments to sorters, such as those who work atop robotic forklift-style cranes that move like self-driving cars on invisible tracks in the concrete floors.

That’s a long way from adidas’s first location on Blackstock Road, a mere 580,000-square-foot facility.  These days, local executives, a youthful, under-60 bunch, wax downright emotional about their home.

“I am so Spartanburg,” says Tracie Duncan, adidas’s director of credit and accounts receivable. “I can go on forever. We love this area. The Chamber of Commerce is very excited about having us here, and it’s great to be an organization that’s in an area where they want you, and they’re excited about your name.”

Adds Bob Lundin, senior director of U.S. distribution: “The Chamber does a lot of research for us. They connect us with other companies, and even if we need space. Even though we have 2.3 million square feet, at any given point in time, we may flex a bit and need something.”

Like many other major employers here, adidas enjoys not just access to the interstate and to Greer’s Inland Port—the company was an inaugural anchor tenant—but also to the youthful abundance that is Spartanburg.

“One of the big things about Spartanburg for us is the college and university presence that makes it a great pipeline for employees,” says Marshalla Bell-Maple, human resources senior manager. “We have hires from all the universities around.”

Lundin adds, “With unemployment low, employees are at a premium.” So, he says, the company, the Chamber, and area educators, representing kindergarten through higher ed., team up on workforce planning.

Seeing more than potential hires, the company also nurtures tomorrow’s champions, sponsoring the Wofford College Terriers’ athletic department with shoes and apparel.  (Incidentally, adidas owns Reebok and sells TaylorMade golf gear; the top two finishers at the 2017 Masters—green-jacket winner Sergio Garcia and second-place finisher Justin Rose—are sponsored by TaylorMade. One has to wonder whether one of their TaylorMade M2 drivers or a logoed shirt passed through Spartanburg.)

Adidas also plays ball with such causes as Habitat for Humanity and the Spartanburg-based Boys & Girls Clubs of the Upstate; at the latter’s grand opening, the company contributed thousands of dollars in equipment and volunteer hours as part of a substantial sponsorship package. Other philanthropic programs include middle school sponsorships, college and career fairs, and supporting Tyger River Park.

“If you want to know the attraction of Spartanburg,” says Paul Morin, senior director of logistics, “we’ve had a lot of people relocate to the area because it’s such a good quality of life. I just moved within the last year, from Boston—less hustle and bustle from the Northeast; one flake of snow is better than five feet.”

And Lundin, a Chicago native who also knows about cold weather, is quick to add that the people here are warm, too.

“It’s nice,” he says, “to be in an area where everyone says hi to you. It’s very friendly.”