Skip to main content

Greenville Business Magazine

County Profiles

Every county has a different story to tell, especially when it comes to the factors that drive the economy. The Upstate is no different. For this year’s State of the Upstate, we take a quick look at each county, offering insight into the top employers and the top industries. For some we also highlight successful workforce development efforts, while in others we provide an economic snapshot.

By Baker Maultsby

A workforce prepared to take on cutting-edge jobs in a global economy depends on a commitment to educational opportunities. In Abbeville County, corporations and philanthropic individuals have demonstrated their commitment. 

It’s called the Abbeville Promise, a fund created and managed by the Fresh Coast Community Foundation (FCCF) to cover the cost of tuition for Abbeville County residents to attend Piedmont Technical College. The program is open to all high school graduates in the county. 

Based on similar initiatives in other communities around the country, the Abbeville Promise is intended to both inspire teenagers to stay focused on earning a high school diploma while providing an avenue for them to pursue training, certifications, and other education to meet the needs of employers in the area.  

Piedmont Technical College offers a host of programs that put its graduates in a great position to pursue a wide range of careers. And its Abbeville County campus has expanded courses in such areas as mechatronics, a growing field that combines training in machine engineering and computer-based automation, as well as a variety of programs in office and information technology.

It’s a symbiotic relationship between the FCCF, Piedmont Technical College, local government, and industry—everyone working together to move in the same direction. 

Sidney Locke, director of strategic marketing and communication for Sage Automotive Interiors, is impressed with what’s going on in the county. The company operates four plants, employing nearly 400 workers in South Carolina—two of which are located in Abbeville County. 

Local leaders “are among the engaged and active groups we see,” he says. 

A leading producer of automotive interior textiles, the company depends on the work of skilled machinists and micro-processing technicians. The company also hires entry-level workers in manual labor positions. “We have a full range of jobs at our plants,” Locke says.

On the high-tech side, Sage Automotive provides internship opportunities for Piedmont Tech students who study mechatronics. It’s not the only company offering hands-on training that puts students into the career pipeline. 

Piedmont Tech boasted in 2018 about the success of Austin Morris, a machine tool technology student who earned a certificate as a tool-and-dye maker while working as an apprentice at Burnstein von Seelen Precision Castings. 

Morris remains employed by the company. If need be, he won’t likely have trouble finding work in Abbeville or beyond. Tool-and-dye is a highly specialized field with a dwindling pool of talent. In a news release by the college, his instructor says, “Demand remains strong. We have a 100 percent placement rate.”

By Kathleen Maris

As a college student working toward a two-year technical degree, Jarred Major was offered a great opportunity: The chance to learn and apprentice under skilled workers through Bosch’s Technical Scholar Program.

Representatives from Bosch visited college classrooms every semester and talked to students about the program. Once Major was eligible, he applied, going through the interview process and multiple tests before being accepted. He started the program in 2018 during his last semester of college, taking night classes to finish his degree in addition to the 40 hours a week the program required.

The Technical Scholar Program is a four-month rotational program that has participants learning job functions in the classroom one week and applying said functions on-the-job the next week, all under the guidance of mentors and trainers who do all they can to make sure students succeed.

“It’s great that we immediately get to put what we learn into action,” Major says. “And we get to work closely with mentors who have been with the company for 10 or 15 years or more, which is helpful in learning how to do things the right way from the beginning while also giving us a go-to person to ask questions and get feedback if an issue comes up.”

Students receive the same benefits as full-time workers during the program’s duration, and upon completion, they transition straight into their new roles in the company. This gives them a leg up in their careers and the industry, as not everyone is able to receive training as students. It also guarantees students starting positions immediately after obtaining their degrees.

While the Technical Scholar Program is one of Bosch’s main training programs, the company also offers programs, classes, and workshops at least once a month to teach its associates new skills that they otherwise might not learn in their specific fields. Major recently attended a week-long robot training class that taught him user navigation, handling, and basic maintenance, which he can now use when interacting with the robots in his department.

“One of the best things about working for Bosch is their commitment to training associates and giving them the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to both succeed in their current roles and get to the next level,” says Major.

By David Dykes

Cherokee County is one of the major producers of peaches in all of the U.S., but that’s not all it can do.

The county also boasts strong economic development, welcoming businesses of all sizes, offering a variety of shopping, and being home to two colleges—Spartanburg Community and Limestone—that offer two- and four-year degree programs.

And if you’re looking for a job in the Gaffney area, Hire Dynamics believes you’re in the right place.

The firm develops staffing strategies that match qualified workers to the right job. It has helped thousands find work.

Current needs include skilled forklift operators, industrial maintenance technicians, shipping and receiving workers, and warehouse positions, says Kelli James, branch manager of Hire Dynamics in Gaffney.

Companies also need machine operators and employees to work with chemicals, she says.

In terms of filling jobs, “The maintenance techs are a little bit more difficult only because the demand is so high,” James says. “It’s an employees’ market right now. They can pretty much pick and choose where they want to go work.”

Cherokee County had a jobless rate of 3 percent in April, compared with 2.8 percent a year ago.

S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce officials said 780 people in the county were unemployed out of a workforce of 25,932.

The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in April ticked upward to 3.4 percent from March’s estimate of 3.2 percent.

A May report by DEW’s Business Intelligence Dept. showed manufacturing, by far, was the largest employer by industry in Cherokee County.

DEW officials project the Upstate’s largest employment gains through 2024 will come in such industries as professional, scientific, and technical services; construction; and wholesale trade.

No growth is projected for farm workers and laborers, textile jobs such as knitting and weaving machine setters, and fast-food cooks.

For those without prior work experience who opt not to go to college after high school and instead choose to go directly into the workplace, James says it’s important to have a record participating in sports programs or volunteer work outside of school.

It should be something “that’s showing some kind of commitment or drive with them and then we can teach them, more or less, the soft skills, the interview skills, if they’re eager and wanting to work,” she says.

Most employers her firm deals with “aren’t looking for just a temporary employee,” James says. “They’re looking for their next full-time employee.” 

by Cindy Landrum

Manufacturing wasn’t at the top of Johnathan Harper’s list of possible career choices—until he participated in Michelin’s new youth apprenticeship program.

The program, which was launched with the help of Apprenticeship Carolina, received national certification during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Labor in May. It is designed to expose high school students to advanced manufacturing and to provide Michelin with a pipeline of qualified candidates for the company’s toughest hire: reliability technicians.

“Most people see doctors on TV. They see lawyers on TV. They see police on TV,” says David Stafford, Michelin North America’s executive vice president of personnel. “You don’t see TV shows about manufacturing.”

Harper also says many high school students don’t even consider manufacturing.

“There’s still a stigma that it is dirty and not safe,” he adds. “It’s not like that at all.”

Harper was one of five Greenville County students to participate in Michelin’s youth apprenticeship program during this past school year. The company plans to roll out the program to other Michelin sites in South Carolina and in other states.

Students in the program get a minimum of 2,000 paid hours of on-the-job training with a Michelin mentor at a Michelin plant and 240 hours of instruction at a career center. They are chosen for the program based on leadership skills, math and mechanical aptitude, work experience, motivation, and teamwork skills. This year’s apprentices worked at Michelin’s US1 plant in Greenville County, which opened in 1975 and was the company’s first manufacturing facility in the U.S.

Ideally, the high school students participating in the youth apprenticeship program will enroll in mechatronics at a technical college, where they can take advantage of free tuition, fees, and books through Michelin’s Tech Scholars program. The students have to pass a test to get into the Tech Scholars program. Harper did and will start at Greenville Technical College in the fall.

In addition to going to school, he will also work 20 hours per week in a Michelin facility. Tech Scholars are eligible for entry-level employment upon graduation, starting with a salary of around $56,000 or more. While a full-time job is not guaranteed, Stafford said Michelin hires about 95 percent of them. Michelin hires and trains approximately 150 reliability technicians, the job for which the youth apprentices are training, across its U.S. plants each year.

“The biggest thing for me was getting work experience while in high school,” Harper says. “A lot of kids my age are just guessing what they want to do. We get actual experience.”

Stafford says the youth apprenticeship program helps both Michelin and the students.

“It’s a win for us. It’s a win for the students,” Stafford notes. “These folks make as much money as a four-year college graduate without the debt, and we get the talent we need.”

By Kathleen Maris and Richard Breen

With the projected nursing shortage in the U.S., the successful education of registered nurses and practitioners is more important than ever. In Greenwood County, Self Regional Healthcare is doing its part by offering its Family Medicine Residency Program in partnership with medical schools across the country.

The three-year program offers five specialty tracks: international medicine, underserved medicine, sports medicine, obstetrics, and hospice/palliative care. It also offers multiple electives, including dermatology, geriatrics, and radiology. All work and training take place in the Montgomery Center for Family Medicine and the Self Regional Medical Center, located across the street from each other.

In addition to students’ stipends and benefits, students receive an educational allowance each year for CME (Continuing Medical Education), books, and exam fees, as well as five days of CME per year, supplies such as laptops and lab coats, and meal allowance for on-call residents.

Self Regional Healthcare also offers a summer volunteer program for high school upperclassmen who meet specified requirements and intend to pursue a career in healthcare. The program accepts 50 students per summer. 

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. 

Lauren County
By Baker Maultsby

The manufacturing sector powers the Upstate’s economy, and it is certainly the driving force in Laurens County: 45% of the jobs in the county are in manufacturing, the highest percentage in the Upstate, according to Jonathan Coleman, executive director of the Laurens County Development Corporation. 

And what that means, Coleman says, is that “the need for technical skills is at an all-time high.”

To meet the need, educators and industry leaders in Laurens have formed particularly strong partnerships. “Robust industry and education collaborations continue to demonstrate that Laurens County is a competitive destination for economic development,” says Rusty Denning, associate vice president for Economic Development and Continuing Education at Piedmont Technical College. 

“Together, we are building the right workforce at the right time.” 

At the forefront is the Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) at Piedmont Technical College’s Laurens County campus. The center offers an array of high-tech courses—from welding to mechatronics to machine tool technology—and works closely with local companies to respond to specific areas of need and opportunity.  

“The CAM currently has dozens of active training partnerships in Laurens County,” Denning says. “Just last year, we partnered with ABB, a global supplier of industrial robots, to become its third national training site. We are very proud of that.”

Meanwhile, Piedmont Technical College works with Laurens County’s school districts to provide dual enrollment opportunities. High school students can begin courses toward an associate’s degree or certifications in high-demand areas. “Dual enrollment gives students a real head start on their chosen careers,” says Program Director Kris Burris. 

Local companies have been eager to provide support. Jeannie McCallum, human resources director at Tokyo-based Fukoku, which produces rubber and plastic parts for automotive manufacturers, has visited local high schools to talk with students about resume writing, interview skills, and overall career awareness. 

Fukoku is growing and anticipates additional hiring in years to come. McCallum is excited about the potential of collaborative efforts in Laurens. “Our high schools offer a world-class curriculum and are doing a great job working to prepare students for high-tech job opportunities,” she says. 

Coleman, too, believes that Laurens has developed a formula for success. Still, demand for highly skilled workers challenges county leaders to continue pushing. “Like many counties in South Carolina and across the Southeast, the need for technical skills is the biggest concern facing prospective companies,” he says. “Our region is working hard to make sure our workforce has the skills needed, but that pool needs to grow.”

By Cindy Landrum

BorgWarner considers its apprenticeship program at its Seneca plant to be an employee recruitment and retention tool.

Open to employees who have been with the company for at least six months, the program is an opportunity for workers to increase their technical knowledge through classroom instruction, as well as 12 months to 36 months of on-the-job training where they work with a senior employee. 

Jorge Preza began working for BorgWarner as a temp worker in 2010 and was hired on full-time in 2011 as a machinist in the company’s aluminum and steel department. He says the apprenticeship program allowed him to increase his breadth of knowledge and gave him another “tool in the toolbox” to use to perform his job at a high level. 

“The more education you have, the better you are,” he says.

Some of the approximately 70 employees who have participated in BorgWarner’s machining apprenticeship program since it began a little more than four years ago, like Preza, wanted to increase their knowledge base and chances of moving up within their department.

Some of the apprentices have been employees who lead teams in departments in which they did not move up through the rank and file. Others want to move to another department within BorgWarner.

Since the program started, BorgWarner has seen an increase in production and a decrease in part quality errors overall and a reduction in turnover and a greater than average promotion rate among the apprentices. 

“It’s good for both sides,” Preza said. “It benefits the company and it benefits the employee.”

By Cindy Landrum

Chad LaMance knows how United Tool and Mold’s apprenticeship program with the Pickens County Career and Technology Center can positively impact both an apprentice’s career and his company’s ability to fill jobs with skilled workers.

LaMance, the Easley-based company’s chief operating officer, came to United Tool and Mold as a co-op student from the career center’s machine tool technology program in 1996, 16 years before the partnership became the first school-to-registered apprenticeship program in the Upstate.

He already had earned enough high school credits to graduate but was looking for classes to take during his senior year. He was familiar with the career center’s machine tool technology program because his older step-brother had gone through it. LaMance, who was thinking about going to a four-year college to study mechanical engineering, enrolled and got into the co-op program that allowed him to work at United Tool and Mold—sweeping floors on the shop floor at first—while going to school.

It led to a career that now has him selecting new apprentices for the program, which has served as a pipeline for skilled workers for the company that builds and repairs plastic injection and blow molding machinery. 

He looks for people like Hunter Gibby, a Daniel High School graduate who enrolled in the career center’s machine tool technology program so he wouldn’t have to take a foreign language class. Through the apprenticeship program, the mechanically-inclined student found a career that now has him running laser and engraving equipment.

“We’re developing our own workforce,” says LaMance, adding that around half of the 40 employees who work directly on the company’s shop floor and maintenance have come from the career center. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the career center.”

LaMance says about half of the shop floor and maintenance employees have come through the career and technology center, including all of the shop floor leads.

The 24-year-old company recently opened an $11.1 million, 60,000-square-foot facility in the Pickens County Commerce Park.

Juniors at the career and technology center can apply to the apprenticeship program. United Tool and Mold officials interview the students, typically hiring two each year.

The apprentices work at United Tool and Mold the summer between their junior and senior years, giving them a chance to learn about the company and the company an opportunity to evaluate the students. The apprentices co-op at the company during their senior year, and then are hired on as employees after they graduate. 

Those who choose to go on to a technical college can get their schooling paid for if they have a B average and agree to work at United Tool and Mold for two years after they finish.

“Several of our employees that have college degrees probably wouldn’t have them if they hadn’t gone straight to work through the apprentice program,” LaMance said.

By Kathleen Maris and Dustin Waters

Dedicated to education and the expansion of the manufacturing industry, BMW partners with local technical colleges, including Spartanburg Community College, to offer the BMW Scholars Program to full-time college students pursuing a related manufacturing degree.

The BMW Scholars Program allows eligible students to work at BMW part-time while enrolled full-time (at least 12 credit hours) at participating colleges. This part-time work includes paid training in one of three paths—logistics, automotive, or technical—through 20-hour weeks. Scholars are also required to complete additional training at BMW, as well as maintain a 2.8 cumulative GPA.

In addition to this hands-on experience, the two-year program provides tuition assistance for each semester enrolled, covers medical and prescription costs, and makes students potential candidates for full-time positions at BMW.

At Plant Spartanburg, BMW also offers the ESA Development Program to associates looking to move up into an ESA position. Launched last summer and structured similar to the scholars program, the nine-month program gives participating production employees the equivalent of 900 hours of on-the-job training and 780 hours of classwork. 

Apart from BMW, the nonprofit Spartanburg Academic Movement strives to ensure that young people--from cradle to career--are prepared for the knowledge-based careers that have begun to dominate the county since the arrival of BMW two decades ago.  

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.

Union County
By Baker Maultsby

Connecting young people with good-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector depends on offering the right educational opportunities—especially in high-demand areas such as welding, machine tool technology, and robotics.

But making courses available is only part of the equation. It’s up to young people to decide whether to pursue studies—and, eventually, jobs—in these fields.

Union Career and Technology Center Director Kimberly Jones explains, “In some cases, we have to change the mindset of parents—they still think of back to the ’70s and ’80s, when manufacturing was a dirty job. It’s not that way anymore. People work in clean, air-conditioned facilities, and the jobs pay really well.”

While Union’s economy continues to lag behind much of the region, Jones points to the strength of Gestamp, Timken, and CSL Plasma—modern manufacturing firms that are among the county’s leading employers.

She and other school leaders promote career awareness among students starting at the elementary level. And as students progress through school, they take field trips to nearby industrial facilities and hear from guest speakers in various fields.

Local firms are eager to show off their facilities and the products they make. “We certainly try to honor any requests for tours of our facility,” says Nicole Bookert, who heads up human resources as CSL Plasma’s Union plant. The company produces materials for the collection of plasma, which is then used in the development of medicines.

Meanwhile, companies are invested in a partnership called Operation Workforce Training. As Union County Workforce Development Director Katherine Pendergrass explains, this initiative brings together K-12 schools, Spartanburg Community College’s Union campus, local government, and industry to train high school seniors and recent graduates on skills companies need right away. The 65-hour course includes Six Sigma training, OSHA certification, forklift certification, and other basic manufacturing skills. Lockhart Power provides a $500 incentive for completion of the program.

Companies have supported the development of high-tech skills through philanthropic endeavors as well. For example, the Timken Foundation provided a $30,000 grant to fund the upgrade of equipment for the career center’s machine tool technology program.

While there is still plenty of room for growth in Union, these collaborative efforts appear to be paying dividends. According to Pendergrass, “Over the last four years, we have seen over $300 million in new industrial investment and over 300 new jobs created… And there’s a sense of optimism that lies in strong activity going on throughout the county.”