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Greenville Business Magazine

Anderson County Manufacturing Base Moves Beyond Textile Heritage

Jun 14, 2023 10:42AM ● By Kevin Dietrich

Textiles dominated Anderson County’s economy for more than a century, from shortly after Reconstruction through the 1990s.

But as textile jobs began moving overseas en masse toward the end of the 20th century, county officials stepped up efforts to diversify the area’s manufacturing base by attracting other industry and devising higher education opportunities to enable workers to better meet the needs of companies.

Today, several textile mills still operate in Anderson County, but a wide array of other manufacturing firms produce everything from automotive components and surgical appliances to ball bearings and protective packaging.

“The local area boasts a strong record of qualified talent with supporting educational opportunities,” said Bosch North American President Mike Mansuetti. “Our associates find Anderson a great place to live and work, which is evidenced by our nearly 40-year history in the community.”

Manufacturing is the biggest employer in Anderson County with nearly 17,000 jobs, and it’s continuing to grow. Several major employers have embraced growth in the area over the past couple of years, including:

Electrolux Home Products, which completed a $250 million expansion at its Anderson site last year.

Bosch, which announced a $200 million expansion in 2022; and

Techtronic Industries, which underwent a recent $135 million expansion.

Anderson County’s economic development efforts are among the strongest in the Southeast, according to Trey Pennington, an executive vice president for commercial real estate firm CBRE South Carolina in Greenville.

“Anderson County has done a great job attracting the right type of industry – the kind that is creating modern, class-A industrial facilities and equipment,” said Pennington, an Anderson native. “And that industry creates tax dollars for Anderson County in addition to jobs for citizens.”

The county’s leaders have “taken a very common-sense approach to creating opportunities for jobs and investment,” he added. “They devised a very streamlined way for businesses to come into the county or expand.”

Strong growth and low unemployment mean many of those employed by the more than 200 manufacturing firms operating in Anderson County are earning good wages.

Of the county’s five largest employment sectors, manufacturing has the highest average salary at $59,644, more than 10 percent more than second-best health care and social assistance, and nearly double that of the third-largest segment, retail trade.

Even when there is a shutdown, Anderson County workers have a better chance of landing on their feet more quickly than those in many other parts of the country.

“If you have a good work record and have worked there for a period of time, you’re going to be a hot commodity,” Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns told the media in February. “There are going to be a lot of people who would like to have you join their team.”

Anderson County’s success in diversifying its manufacturing base is an ongoing process, one involved with ensuring the community infrastructure is in place as much as being amenable to companies looking to build or expand in the area.

“We have a very strong environment here for manufacturing,” said Teri Gilstrap, assistant director of economic development for Anderson County Economic Development.

“Our proximity to I-85 and the strong work ethic within the county are among our biggest attributes, but we’ve also been working with county officials to make sure there is the housing, transportation and education necessary for companies to find and retain workers,” she added.

One of the key parts of the equation is Tri-County Technical College, which has a location in Anderson. Tri-County has approximately 1,250 students taking courses to prepare them for manufacturing jobs, according to Dr. Mandy Elmore, dean of the school’s Engineering and Industrial Technology Division and assistant vice president of curriculum and instruction.

“Our manufacturing training programs have a placement rate of more than 97 percent,” Elmore said. “Companies in all sectors of manufacturing are hiring our students as fast as we can prepare them.”

Tri-County Tech offers the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or I-Best, program. I-Best offers a start-to-finish road map for securing work in the county’s manufacturing section, from career planning at the outset to training, certification and job placement.

Education costs, including tuition, books and fees, are covered for individuals taking part in the I-Best program. I-Best is a single-semester program designed to help individuals who might be working in another sector or adults completing their GED diploma to help prepare them for a manufacturing career.

“All of our programs are designed with input from local industry partners. That’s who we’re designed to serve,” Elmore said. “Foundational skills are our emphasis. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can help prepare students for the basics, so they know what to expect.”

Tri-County offers several programs, ranging from the Manufacturing Works pre-apprenticeship program for high school seniors in Anderson County, to credit programs for those looking to pursue an associate degree and certificate programs for those looking to learn additional skills or get a start in manufacturing.

Area leaders are working to help provide increased childcare opportunities for those interested in manufacturing careers. Childcare is the second biggest expense for working families, behind only housing.

United Way of Anderson County, Anderson County Economic Development, and other United Way chapters in the Upstate work alongside businesses to develop an employer-sponsored childcare model, according to Naomi Lett, president & CEO of the United Way Association of South Carolina.

“There are two current challenges: One is a general lack of available childcare which keeps people out of the workforce or creates an unstable workforce; the other is that the current childcare hours of operation don’t reflect industry operations,” Lett said.

There has been a push to get the state, particularly the S.C. Department of Social Services, to invest in manufacturing areas so childcare centers can expand their operations, to help workers on second and third shifts, she said.

“The other part of our efforts focuses on the existing South Carolina employer-sponsored childcare tax credit,” Lett added. “We’ve engaged large manufacturers across the Upstate to see how the tax credit can be improved to increase its utilization and effectiveness.”

A factor many companies study when considering expansion is the cost of housing. As the Upstate continues to grow, it’s likely housing costs will increase, making it more difficult for those starting out or with families.

Anderson is doing its best to ensure housing keeps pace with demand. More than 500 new single-family homes were built in the city of Anderson alone between 2016 and 2021.

Another significant manufacturer operating in Anderson County, global medical device company Arthrex, expanded in the South Carolina Upstate in part because of a lack of affordable homes for employees near its south Florida headquarters.

Arthrex has invested more than $100 million and added nearly 1,000 jobs in Anderson County over the past five years. It has partnered with Tri-County Tech, workforce training program readySC and Clemson University to help meet its employment needs.

Anderson County is not only seeking ways to help employees find attainable housing, but it has also taken steps to ensure workers make it to the jobsite.

The county has a multi-faceted program, Anderson County Rides, to get workers to and from work, customized to the individual’s needs and abilities, according to Charles Turner, a project manager with Anderson County Economic Development.

Through county funding, Anderson County Economic Development has developed a relationship with Uber, the transportation company, which allows users to hail rides via technology. Individuals using Uber to get to manufacturing jobs in Anderson County can do so at no charge, Turner said.

The county has also partnered with Senior Solutions, which typically helps older individuals with a number of services, including transportation. Anderson County Rides is now working with Senior Solutions to both serve special-needs individuals and as a stopgap when workers have trouble securing a ride around the clock.

“We’re a big county of 770 square miles, which includes nine municipalities, without a countywide transportation program, yet we’re blessed with over 200 manufacturers throughout the county that have employment opportunities on first, second, and third shifts, seven days a week,” Turner said. “For example, people get off work at 4 a.m. Working with Senior Solutions has allowed is to address this issue.”

In addition to transportation, Anderson County Economic Development is also working on a housing assistance program.

“Our goal is to eliminate the barriers that can keep people finding and keeping good jobs,” Turner said.

A final challenge that county officials have been working to overcome is to educate residents about the opportunities available through manufacturing, said Elmore, the Tri-County Tech dean.

“I’ll talk to people working in food service or other entry-level type jobs, and they ask how much they can earn in a manufacturing job,” she said. “The first step might be a move from $15 an hour at their current job to $20 in manufacturing, which might not seem like a huge difference, but with manufacturing there’s a salary accelerator.”

And not only are there more opportunities for pay increases in manufacturing, but also for additional training and responsibilities than in many other fields.

“You’re not talking about a 10 to 15 percent change in your standard of living; you’re talking about as much as a 100 percent or more increase over, say, five years,” Elmore said.

Anderson County’s manufacturing heritage has moved beyond a focus on textiles; technology companies are helping to lead it into a new century of growth.