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Upstate economic development officials identify three disruptive trends

The Upstate region of South Carolina had new business announcements totaling $340.9 million from January through May of this year. Twenty companies announced new or expanding operations, creating a total of 922 new jobs.

Economic development officials expect continuing expansion of the Upstate economy, but three trends are impacting new business recruiting, said John Lummus, President and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance during an address to area business leaders at this week’s 2019 Midyear Economic Outlook hosted by GSA Business Report.

A change in the size of projects
Fewer opportunities exist for major economic development announcements. According to Lummus, 72 percent of new jobs are being created by mid-sized companies, with 86 percent of new jobs coming from companies already located in the Upstate. That trend has economic development officials now placing more emphasis on small to mid-sized companies.

A growing demand for innovation
A lower cost of labor has always been a big selling point when recruiting companies to Upstate SC. But increasing technology is shifting the labor discussion toward a workforce that is smaller but more qualified and highly trained.

“In 1980, it took 25 employees to produce $1 million worth of goods,” Lummus explained. “In 2015, it took only five employees to accomplish that.”

Over the next 10 years, the use of robots to perform certain tasks is expected to increase from 10 percent to more than 25 percent. Manufacturers want to locate in areas where talent and workforce services are available, according to Lummus. That’s why facilities such as the Spark Center at Spartanburg Community College and Serendipity Labs in Greenville are important economic development tools. These “landing pads” offer workforce training and employment services tailored to a company’s specific needs. Spark Center, for example, offers training seminars, technical support, community relations and networking features to help companies find a footing in Spartanburg.

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, who also addressed area businesspeople during the economic outlook, added that the state’s technical college system is a huge draw for businesses considering a move to South Carolina.

“I challenge you to tell the stories of our technical schools,” Evette said. “Theses students are often being recruited by companies before they even finish their program, and they’re making anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 a year, with no debt.”

An expanding role in the global marketplace
The Upstate is home to more than 500 international companies from 38 countries, with international investment and jobs creation in the Upstate at two times the national average, Lummus said. As a result, the Upstate has perfected export programs.

Exporting represents a big growth opportunity for Upstate companies, according to Lummus, especially when considering that 80 percent of consumer growth is taking place outside the United States.

Lummus added that it is vitally important for the Upstate to market itself as a region. “Businesses outside our market don’t know Greenville from Anderson from Spartanburg,” Lummus said. Ten thriving counties coming together to form one robust region is impressive to global business, he said.

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