Laurens County Development Corporation leaders said workforce development has become a priority as the agency enters the New Year.
The LCDC will host its Annual Meeting on Thursday, Jan. 18 at Musgrove Mill Golf Club. Dr. Bruce Yandle, dean emeritus and former economics professor at Clemson University, will be the keynote speaker.
LCDC Executive Director Jonathan Coleman said providing industries with their necessities, including a knowledgeable and competent workforce and pre-constructed building sites are musts as Laurens County attempts to attract industry.
“Companies want to move fast in today’s world, so they don’t have time to buy land, get permits and construct a building,” Coleman said. “They want it ready to go for them, and that’s something were trying to do.”
The LCDC recently got approval for such a building in northern Laurens County at the Owings Industrial Park. Clinton’s I-26 Commerce Parks are also building sites with the hopes of attracting more industries such as the General Electric engineering research center that arrived in Clinton in 2017.
“Most companies are looking at a region,” Coleman said. “They don’t see county lines.”
But Coleman said they do see potential workforce hurdles, and that is why the LCDC has put together job-training and educational initiatives centered around industry.
“That’s why we started our business and education partnership – as a way to bring our company leaders together with our local educators in high schools and community college, so they could share their ideas in both directions,” said LCDC Assistant Director Lynn Finley. “We’ve seen that as a success.”
Finley pointed to ZF Transmissions’ competitive apprenticeship program that takes local high-school graduates and offers employment along with tuition at Piedmont Technical College.
“We have other companies who want to emulate that program now,” she said. “It’s thinking outside the box, but if those workers aren’t available, you take a ‘grow-your-own’ approach, and that’s what they’re doing.”
Finley also praised Piedmont Tech’s related programs and a new S.C. Manufacturing Certificate program that will be offered by Laurens District High School as an elective beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
“In today’s manufacturing environment is so advanced and technological, you can’t work there with just a high school diploma,” Coleman said. “You have to have some kind of training.”
Despite losses in 2017 such as Chicago Bridge & Iron, which had been in the county for decades as B.F. Shaw, which closed after losing contracts with the failed Summer Nuclear Facility project in Fairfield County, and Fisher-Barton in Fountain Inn, Coleman said the county still experienced growth and unemployment has remained low at 4-5 percent.
“Ten years ago, we had about $3.2 million in FILOT (fees-in-lieu-of-taxes) revenue and this year we’ve got over $9 million,” Coleman said. “That’s the kind of impact industry is having in the county.”