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Location Notebook: Union County, SC, Moves Forward

Union County, South Carolina, has pieced together a diverse economy from its historical textile roots.

Q3 2015
Located in the Northwest quadrant of South Carolina, Union County offers a relaxed lifestyle and a rich history dating back to the Revolutionary War combined with a dynamic economy and an eye on the future. With a population of fewer than 30,000 it has that small-town feel, but it’s also home to big business.

Union County’s rich manufacturing history goes back to the early 1900s when the county was home to many large textile plants. With the closing of many of those plants in the late 1990s, the county worked hard to diversify its economy.

A Diversified Industrial Base
Today, global companies including Timken (roller bearings), Dollar General and Belk E-commerce (distribution), ESAB (welding), Gestamp (automotive stamping), Haemonetics (medical devices), Gonvauto (steel processing), and Sonoco Products (plastics) are part of Union County’s diversified manufacturing base, which still includes textile plants such as Milliken and Carlisle Finishing. All of these companies are in proximity to those in the Upstate region of South Carolina where Michelin North America, Fluor Daniel, and BMW have established North American headquarters.
The Union County Advanced Technical Center — representing a partnership between Spartanburg Community College and the Union County campus of the University of South Carolina — provides workers with the technical skills needed by the state’s advanced manufacturing and construction sectors.
And even the county’s apparel companies are becoming industries of the future. For example, Vapor Apparel has decided to invest $1.3 million to open a 30,000-square-foot facility in Union County that will not only manufacture apparel but also engage in digital print-on-demand services. The plant is expected to create 114 jobs over the next five years.

According to Executive Director of the Union County Development Board Andrena Powell-Baker, “Over the last few years, our community has been very, very successful attracting capital investment and jobs.” She noted that between 2009 and 2013, Union County has had more than a quarter of a million dollars in capital investment and created nearly 740 jobs.

Ingredients for Business Success
Union County’s companies can take advantage of easy access to the Upstate region, to the Southern business hubs of Charleston, Atlanta, Charlotte, and to the rest of the nation via the four-lane U.S. 176 and S.C. 49 to I-26 and I-85. And the well-developed infrastructure also allows Union County to draw from a labor force of 500,000 within a 45-minute drive.

A skilled, educated workforce is another business draw for Union County. Specialized training programs to help satisfy the needs of South Carolina’s industries are offered at the county’s local community college facility and high school; these include welding, mechatronics, and automotive bodywork. The Union County Advanced Technical Center — representing a partnership between Spartanburg Community College and the Union County campus of the University of South Carolina — provides workers with the technical skills needed by the state’s advanced manufacturing and construction sectors.

Additionally, readySC and Upstate Workforce and Economic Development Center are available to help those companies locating in Union County with their workforce recruitment and training needs.

Move-In-Ready Facilities
In addition to a skilled workforce, companies looking to locate or expand in Union County can find move-in-ready sites and facilities at its three industrial parks. The 164-acre Tarkas Industrial Park offers a 200,000-square-foot pad-ready site, serviced by Broad River Electric Cooperative, which is available for companies with high electric power needs.
Union County is serviced by five electric companies so utility rates are very competitive. Midway Green Industrial Park boasts highly reliable, low-cost power from Lockhart Power Company, an investor-owned utility that generates more than 99 percent of its power from renewable resources.
Union County is actually serviced by five electric companies so utility rates are very competitive. Midway Green Industrial Park boasts highly reliable, low-cost power from Lockhart Power Company, an investor-owned utility that generates more than 99 percent of its power from renewable resources.

A third park, the Union Commerce Industrial Park, offers a 60,000-square-foot speculative facility suitable for heavy manufacturing, with an adjacent 60,000-square-foot building pad and an additional 45,000 square feet available for expansion. All due diligence has been completed at all three of the aforementioned industrial parks.

Enviable Quality of Life
While all the pieces are in place for businesses to locate in Union County, it’s also a great place to live. The median home price is $85,000, according to Sperling’s Best Places. And the county provides many cultural and recreational opportunities, combined with small town Southern hospitality.

Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the area’s many lakes, rivers, streams, and hiking trails, and nearly 62,000 acres of the county have been reserved as part of the Sumter National Forest. Other outdoor activities include tennis, golf, and a variety of spectator sports venues, including at the high-school and collegiate level.

The Union County region also provides access to museums, fine arts centers, and theater venues. Historic homes and battlefield sites can also be found throughout the county.

More Work Ahead
Despite all its successes, the Union County Development Board knows there’s more work ahead if it is to continue to be attractive to industrial prospects, including those from overseas. In April, the Union County Economic Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker and other local officials met with executives from the Spanish firms Hidral and Indra USA, who were on a three-day tour of South Carolina, accompanied by representatives of the Spanish embassy and South Carolina economic development officials. The group toured two Union County manufacturing plants currently operated by Spanish firms — the Gestamp and Gonvauto facilities. Executives from Hidral and Indra said one of the challenges for companies like theirs locating overseas was determining whom to contact for help at the local level.

According to Powell-Baker, the Union County Development Board is committed to being responsive to the growing interest from international firms and will continue to develop industrial parks and spec buildings to attract new and existing companies.
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