By GREG OLIVER
PICKENS COUNTY – For the second time in a little less than a month, a major economic development announcement took place at the Alliance Pickens headquarters in Liberty as a German based company announced Wednesday that the county would serve as its North American headquarters.
The company, called era-contact, is based in Bretton, Germany, and is the world market leaders in electrical railway couplings as well as setting standards for the cable assembly and vehicle cabling sectors. Among its primary functions are manufacturing products for the transmission of signals, data and power in small spaces, with the applications used in subways, rail and automotive industries.
Officials announced the project site will be located between U.S. Highway 123 and Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co., already established in the Pickens County Commerce Park. The Pickens County location will augment worldwide era-contact locations in France, Tunisia, Turkey, China and Germany.
“Pickens County understands business,” said Pickens County Council Chairman Jennifer Willis in making the announcement. “When businesses succeed and grow, every one of our citizens succeed – directly and indirectly.”
Jochen Kurz, CEO of the Aichele Group, said the company founded in 1969 will bring more than $3 million in investment and 45 new jobs to Pickens County. He describes the first time he saw the county and the site for the company as “love at first sight.”
“Our success is driven by people,” Kurz said. “It's very important for us to work with people in a partnership and have successful cooperation in this field.”
Kurz said the company began its U.S. operations in 2009, focusing in New York since the sales office for the railing operations was located in that area. But the CEO said certain factors led the company to consider a new location for its North American headquarters.
“The location (in New York) was too small and not as good as it should be,” he said. “The weather and traffic were also issues and we decided to go to South Carolina. We have seen a lot of locations here and a lot of people here.”
Other factors in selecting Pickens County as the South Carolina site in which to locate included the fact the commerce park serves as a prestigious location and infrastructure; its close proximity to the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport; customer oriented; the possibility of integrating young people from the Pickens County Career and Technology Center; dual education system, a combination of theory and best practice that is a worldwide company philosophy; service provided by the Pickens County Commerce Park; follow up assistance from Alliance Pickens Executive Director Ray Farley and his staff; perfect conditions for future growth and an incentive system.
Farley said perhaps the most telling sign of the German company's desire to locate in Pickens County came through a handshake agreement between he and founder Eric Aichele since a contract could not be finalized at that time. The Alliance Pickens head also thanked County Council for their effort in expediting the process since plans call for the project – in which the initial structure will consist of 38,000 square feet built on a pad that will accommodate 90,000 square feet – had to move fast.
“Some of these projects take several years and some, like this project, come at you like a fastball,” Farley said. “They had multiple deadlines they had to hit in early 2017 and in order to do that, we had to expedite our schedule in order to accommodate their schedule.”
Aichele and his wife, Crystal, were also in attendance and said they were happy to be in Pickens County.
“It's good land and the county council and the people are very good,” Aichele said.
Crystal added, “All is super.”
Officials say no job information will be available until construction on the facility is near completion.
Pickens County Council member Neil Smith said he is glad to see the county announce another new company in such a short time period.
“The range of pay and the type of jobs provided by era-contact USA will be an asset to our existing portfolio,” Smith said.
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