2018 a very successful year

2018 a very successful year | Union Daily Times

The end of 2018 marks the halfway point in the Union County Development Board’s Business Plan and the plan’s first year has been a very successful one with more than $140 million worth of investment by new and existing industries and businesses in Union County.

“Our business plan runs in two-year cycles,” Union County Development Board Executive Director Kathy Jo Lancaster said Thursday. “We have just finished the first year of our 2018-2019 business plan and it is has been a very successful year.”

Lancaster said that 2018 “has brought another year of industrial growth and expansion projects in Union County. Our existing industries have continued to strengthen the county’s economy through job creation and investments. We had several announcements from existing industries, businesses, and companies who support manufacturing opportunities in the county.”

Job Creation

In 2018, Lancaster said capital investments by new and existing industries in Union County totaled $141 million with most of the investment going to new machinery and equipment. A total of 58 new jobs were created by industry in Union County in 2018, but Lancaster said job creation is continuing and will continue into 2019 due to the continuing growth and expansion of local industries and businesses.

“Companies like Gestamp, Belk, Haemonetics and others are continuing to hire workers,” Lancaster said.

Another sign of the economic growth occurring in the county cited by Lancaster is the expansion of one of the county’s newest employers, Kemper Corporation.

“They announced their relocation to Union County in February and they have now added a new line to their location,” Lancaster said.


In addition to the continued job creation occurring, there is another sign that the economic growth the county has experienced over the past year will continue into 2019, the second year of the Development Board’s 2018-2019 Business Plan. That sign is increased interest by industry in Union County, interest that is taking the form of an increase in the number of requests for information about the county and continued contacts between the Development Board and those industries.

“The requests for information from prospects and site consultants is up from last year,” Lancaster said. “We received 32 requests for information and we had product to submit for 29. We have 12 currently active projects which means they are still interested in the buildings and sites.”

Lancaster said that those buildings and sites or “product” the county has to offer is what is driving interest in the county.

“The spec building and the Midway plant are the main reasons for this increased interest,” Lancaster said. “Having an existing building makes Union County much more competitive.”


Another factor driving the increased interest by industry in the county is the presence of railroads and the proximity of county-owned industrial sites to those railroads.

“Our county has basically two rail served sites that are on the market,” Lancaster said. “That’s the Trakas Industrial Park and the Cudd Property. We have the Midway Green Industrial Park which offers rail access. These have also been factors in the increased interest.”


While the county already has these properties available for prospective industries, Lancaster pointed out that efforts are continuing to improve, enhance, upgrade, and put in place the infrastructure industries are looking for in a community.

“We are continuing to work towards fulfilling long- and short-term objectives in the build out of Union Commerce Park and H. Mac Johnson Industrial Park,” Lancaster said. “There are several infrastructure projects now under way and several new projects we hope to begin in 2019.”

ManuFirst SC

While the county is in good shape when it comes to infrastructure and buildings sought by industry and is working to get in even better shape in those areas, one of the biggest challenges facing Union County is providing both existing and new industries with the workforce they need now and will need in the future.

“We’ve been meeting with existing industries and discussing the issue of low unemployment and how to produce the needed employees,” Lancaster said.

Like so much of the rest of the country, the unemployment rate in Union County has declined with the economic boom, so much so that companies are creating jobs but having problems finding workers, especially trained ones, to fill them. Lancaster said the Development Board is working on developing a program to meet that challenge and provide industry with the trained workforce it needs.

“We are interested in bringing ‘ManuFirst SC’ to Union County,” Lancaster said. “The (SC) Department of Commerce used it in Berkeley County when the Volvo plant was announced there and the company needed 2,000 employees.”

Lancaster said that ManuFirst SC, which is offered through the technical college system, is a 4-week/62-hour course which teaches all the basics of working in manufacturing. Those who graduate from the program earn a LEAN manufacturing certificate which shows they have the training and experience to work in a manufacturing setting. Graduates would then interview with local industries looking for trained and experienced applicants to fill the jobs they are creating.

“One of the things we’ve found is we (the county) have a lack of applicants for these jobs because of a lack of manufacturing experience,” Lancaster said. “The goal is to provide that manufacturing experience and increase the number of applicants with that manufacturing experience.”

Lancaster said the SC Department of Commerce provides funding to bring ManuFirst SC to a technical college in a county and that plans are to obtain those funds and have the Spartanburg Community College Union Campus offer the program.

“It will be a partnership of Union County, Spartanburg Community College, and the SC Department of Commerce,” Lancaster said. “We’re looking at 12 students for the initial course.”

Incumbent Worker Training

As Lancaster pointed out, much of the $141 million in capital investment by industry in Union County was for new machinery and technology. This is necessary because in the increasingly high-tech economy of the 21st century, technology is constantly and rapidly evolving and industries must react quickly to those changes and upgrade the hardware and software that enable them to compete successfully, remain in business, and grow.

This, however, requires a workforce that can adapt to those continuous changes and Lancaster said the Development Board is working to encourage local industry to take advantage of the resource that can help them keep their workforce up to date with the technological changes that are occurring and will continue to occur.

“Incumbent Worker Training Grants are available through the Upstate Workforce Investment Board,” Lancaster said. “We’re pushing our employers to apply for the funds to train or retrain their workers. As technology changes workers need to enhance their skills.

“We’re working with three different companies that plan to submit grant applications in 2019,” Lancaster said. “This is thousands of training dollars that can help Union County industries train their workers.”

Lancaster said that the Development Board is willing to work with all other companies and industries in Union County that qualify for grants to help them get those grants. She said the board is willing to “facilitate the application process and help them get the money they would qualify for and work through the steps to submit their grant request.”


In many ways the job of the Union County Development Board is to sell Union County to the companies and industries of the world and in the 21st century that means the Internet.

The Development Board has two websites — uniondevelopmentboard.com and workinunion.com — that provides information about Union County that would be of interest to companies and industries looking to locate here. In another sign of both continued economic growth and increased interest in Union County, Lancaster said that traffic to uniondevelopmentboard.com is up 25 percent over last year and that traffic to workinunion.com is up 68 percent over 2017.

“Our website is viewed by prospects and site consultants who are interested in locating or relocating a business to Union,” Lancaster said. “Their first step they make toward doing so is at our website.”


Lancaster said the accomplishments of the past year have been due to teamwork, to the combined, coordinated and cooperative efforts of the members of the board and its allies such as Union County, the City of Union, Lockhart Power, and other public and private agencies involved in economic development.

“We made a lot of accomplishments and I think we have an excellent team, including our local board and our allies the county council, and the city council,” Lancaster said. “A lot of this would not have been possible without a team approach.”

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Times