By Liz Segrist
Companies keep bringing high-tech manufacturing jobs to Pickens County.
Economic developers and company heads say tax incentives and an educated workforce are the driving forces behind expansions or new facilities. Pickens County has had four jobs announcements since June, with YH America South Carolina LLC making the largest announcement on Oct. 11.
"This is definitely a record-setting year for Pickens County for economic development," Alliance Pickens Executive Director Ray Farley said.
YH America, an automotive components manufacturer, plans to expand operations in Pickens County with a $5.14 million investment and 93 new jobs. KP Components Inc. announced 50 jobs and its first North American facility in Pickens County. JR Automation Technologies and VCI-SC both announced about 50 jobs and their first manufacturing facilities out of Michigan to be in Pickens County.
Christopher Estock, plant manager for YH America, said the investment is in response to demand for products. The workforce and tax incentives offered in Pickens County were the main factors in the company’s decision to expand, he said.
YH America manufactures automotive fluid handling components for the light vehicle industry with Ford and Chrysler as two of its biggest customers. Ford and Chrysler also plan to invest $4 million in customer-owned tooling.
Pickens County might be an unsuspecting place for specialized, high-tech jobs to migrate toward. The rural county has a population around 119,000, which has grown by 7.6% since the 2000 census.
The per capita income in 2009 was $20,626 and the median household income for 2009 was $40,357. The county has 17.5% of people living below the poverty line, according to 2010 U.S. Census Data.
Pickens County Council Chairwoman Jennifer Willis said the business friendly community, educational assets and prepared workforce keeps drawing the companies in during tough economic times.
"We could not have these announcements with our skilled workers and graduates of our school and Tri-County Technical College and training programs," Willis said. "The develop workers for our industry so that when you start operations in Pickens County, your employees hit the ground running and know how to do their job."
Tri-County Technical College, the Pickens County Career and Technology Center and the school system is enabling attendees to be prepared for specialized jobs in the automotive and manufacturing sectors, Farley said.
"Our students are being taught to solve problems," Farley said. We are not the only county in South Carolina that has a career center and a technical college, but those assets have been instrumental in achieving these economic developments and expansions."
JR Automation and KP Components in particular were attracted by Pickens County high school students interested and trained in robotics.
"Our students have shown in a world-wide, competitive marketplace that they are very competitive in robotics and automation," Farley said. "It was very critical in JR Automation and KP Components’ decisions because they saw the young, raw talent that could help drive their technical manufacturing."
The YH America facility at 109 Gillespie Drive in Easley sits on 19 acres and employs 480 people on a 70,000-square-foor manufacturing floor. The expansion increases capacity and improves efficiency at the Pickens County plant. It’s set for completion in 2012.
The investment for capital equipment and increasing the plant’s square footage is needed for the company’s strategy and plan sales growth of 30% by 2012.
KP Components Inc., a Denmark based precision CNC supplier, announced Sept. 20 plans to locate its first North American facility in Pickens County. KP Components plans to invest $10 million in its new automated machining facility in an existing building on Pelzer Highway in Easley to create more than 50 jobs.
The facility will produce hydraulic components used in farm equipment, heavy equipment and wind power turbines. KP Components offers manufacturing solutions through robots and technology.
JR Automation Technologies LLC announced Sept. 13 plans to create 54 jobs over the next five years in Pickens County. The Holland, Mich. based company makes automation equipment for the automotive, pharmaceutical, food and general industries. It plans to invest more than $2 million at its new manufacturing facility at 1473 Walhalla Highway in Pickens.
It expects to expand and locate its new sales, engineering and manufacturing facility in Pickens County and outsource about 30% of its work to local machine shops, metal fabricators and the like.
JR aims to increase support for its existing customer base and benefit from the manufacturing opportunities in the Southeast.
Sturgis, Mich.-based VCI-SC Inc., a metal-parts manufacturer, announced July 5 it will create up to 50 jobs and make a $2 million investment with the opening of a new facility in Pickens County.
The company is an automotive supplier for BMW Manufacturing Co. in Spartanburg County and other OEMs. It’s also involved with the aerospace, energy, industrial and energy sectors. The company will locate in an existing building at 2632 Farrs Bridge Road.
YH America’s facility opened in May 2009 after acquiring the business from Southfield, Mich. based Fluid Routing Solutions.
"YH America has long been a good community member and has weathered the difficulties of the automotive industry of the past several years by sticking to what they do well," said Ronnie L. Booth, president of Tri-County Technical College and chairman of Alliance Pickens.
Farley said this expansion is especially important to Pickens County since they had to devise a plan to keep YH America local in August 2007 after the company announced plans to relocate and merge with a sister operation in Quebec, Canada.
A team from the S.C. Department of Commerce, Tri-County Tech, Duke Energy and Alliance Pickens worked to convince the previous owners to keep operation local and relocate some of the Canada operations instead in December 2007.
"It was great to know that at a very grass-roots level, our little community had an impact on what was a major corporate decision and made that company stay," said Farley.
YH America services the automotive industry with power steering, air conditioning, and brake components and other related products. The company supplies power steering hose assemblies with manufacturing plants in Easley, as well as Versailles, Ky., and is supported by the Auburn Hills, Mich. technical center.
YH America is a wholly owned subsidiary of Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. YRC operates globally in eight countries and employs 15,000 people.