Cooperation key to bringing ESAB to Union County

A cooperative effort by the City of Union, Union County, the Union County Development Board and the SC Department of Commerce reached its successful conclusion Wednesday morning with the formal opening of the ESAB Welding and Cutting Products manufacturing facility.

City, county, development board and commerce department officials were part of a group of invited guests who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the ESAB facility which is located at 256 Midway Drive. The ceremony was the formal culmination of the effort to recruit ESAB to Union County, an effort that began in 2010 and required the cooperation of local and state government and economic development organizations.

In 2011, Union County Council and Union City Council each voted to approve their respective portions of the incentive package that helped recruit ESAB. For its part, the county entered into a 30-year fee-in-lieu of taxes agreement with ESAB which allows the company to pay a reduced property tax rate of 6 percent a year rather than 10.5 percent; provide the company with a five-year Special Revenue Tax Credit; and entered into a multi-county agreement with Spartanburg County covering the ESAB facility.

The county also purchased the Midway site for $800,000 and was reimbursed half of that by the city. The city also reimbursed the county for half of the $100,000 infrastructure grant ESAB received from the county development fund.

In addition, the city also entered into a memorandum of understanding with ESAB regarding the provision of water, sewer and natural gas to the Midway facility. While the facility is located outside Union’s municipal limits, ESAB will pay the lower rate the city charges its customers within its municipal limits for the first three years of operation.

Union County Supervisor Tommy Sinclair said the cooperation between the city and the county along with that of the development board and the department of commerce made Wednesday’s ceremony and what it represents possible.

“It was a joint effort between us and the city, we bought the building together, we’re leasing it back to ESAB and they will end up buying the building through the lease,” Sinclair said. Thursday. “While we were not out to make money, the return on the lease will be a little bit greater than what we paid for the building.

“Additionally, we worked together to help provide some financial incentives,” he said. “We also sought and received C-Funds to resurface the road and to modify the parking lot for a potential road extension. ESAB was very easy to do business with and we are truly excited for them and their future in Union County. Without a doubt the cooperation between the city, the county, the development board and the SC Department of Commerce made this happen.”

ESAB, which was founded in Sweden more than a century ago by the inventor of the covered welding electrode, is a global producer of a wide array of welding and cutting applications employing more than 9,000 in 122 manufacturing facilities on four continents. The Midway facility, which the company spent $19 million to renovate and equip, employs 101 people in the production of high performance MIG and sub-arc welding wire. The 260,000-square-foot facility is part of ESAB’s efforts to meet the growing demand for its products and services in North America. The company, which has seen steady growth, is currently only using approximately half the facility, but plans to eventually use the remainder of the space as it expands operations in response to increased demand in the North American market.

City of Union Mayor Harold Thompson said ESAB is making a contribution not only to the local economy but in the lives of its employees as well.

“On behalf of the City of Union, we want to officially welcome ESAB to Union,” Thompson said. “We also want to take this opportunity to thank ESAB for their investment in the community. The jobs they bring will not only boost our local economy, but it helps to improve the quality of life for those who will be employed by the company. We share their values, strength through cooperation, which makes them a global leader in the services and products they provide.”

Union County Economic Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker said that ESAB chose Union County because it wanted the best.

“Yesterday’s ribbon cutting ceremony was well worth the wait,” Powell-Baker said Thursday. “ESAB is a world class manufacturer that chose Union County because we had the best site, the best building, the best community, and the best workforce to meet their needs.”

Powell-Baker pointed out that the Midway facility and the willingness of its former owner to allow the county to market it was an important first step in bringing ESAB to Union County.

“Their search began several months before they came for their first visit to Union and we didn’t become a serious player in the search until the fourth quarter of 2010,” Powell-Baker said. “The building itself was the major factor in them considering our community. The former Midway Milliken facility was a very-well built, well-maintained facility with appropriate ceiling height (26 foot) that Milliken allowed us to begin marketing early in 2010. The partnership with Milliken to market this building was a good one since, for several months, this was the only suitable building for manufacturing in our portfolio. We were showing Midway to prospects consistently until ESAB narrowed their search to Union and one other location for this project.”

Powell-Baker said the next step in the process was the coming together of the various local and state agencies and private business to provide the incentives needed to seal the deal.

“The process to seal their commitment to Union was a bit lengthy in that the negotiations and gaining final agreement on the terms of the deal had its twists and turns,” Powell-Baker said. “But in the third quarter of last year, the Development Board, the County of Union, the City of Union, the City of Union Utilities, Lockhart Power, the South Carolina Department of Commerce and ESAB’s project team all banded together to make it work.”

Powell-Baker said the rewards of that success were evident Wednesday and she expressed confidence that the benefits of ESAB’s presence in Union County will continue into the future.

“During the plant tour yesterday, we were able to see the employees at work and noticed that most of them were local,” Powell-Baker said. “That in itself was very gratifying. I fully expect to see ESAB grow its business in Union and I anticipate even more of our citizens getting hired there.”

To work at ESAB or any similar firm, however, will require a commitment on the part of the people of Union County looking for work to prepare themselves with education and training.

“I cannot express enough to those who are presently unemployed and seeking work, the importance of upgrading their technical skills to a higher level,” Powell-Baker said. “We have a wonderful technology center right here in the community that can provide opportunities for robotics and advanced technical training to those who need the upgrades. For those who have limited or no recent manufacturing experience, these technical skills can help them be more competitive.

“The companies that are looking at Union are also looking for the best and brightest talent to staff their positions in both leadership and hourly,” she said. “One of the key drivers for all location decisions is the availability and skills of the local and regional workforce.”

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times