By Julie Howle
An ideal location, business friendly environment and highly skilled work force with training and education available at area colleges and universities were all part of the draw that led to TaylorMade Golf Co.’s decision to build a new golf ball production facility in Pickens County, company officials said.
TaylorMade Golf announced plans last week to build a new facility in the county that will mean an investment of $13 million and could create new jobs.
“An internationally known brand name, TaylorMade-adidas, has chosen to not only locate in Pickens County but they’re going to own this building,” said Ray Farley, executive director of Alliance Pickens, the economic development arm of Pickens County.
“They’re sinking their roots deep,” Farley said. “The balls won’t be made anywhere else in North America, and these balls are made for a worldwide marketplace and the PGA tour.”
TaylorMade Golf will close its facility in Westminster, where its lease will expire in summer 2014, and move the operation to a new 120,000-square-foot facility that will be built near Liberty at the Pickens County Commerce Park at U.S. 123 and Cartee Road.
Company leaders expect to break ground in May and finish construction in January, said John Kawaja, executive vice president at TaylorMade Golf.
“We plan to be moved into our new facility here in time to make golf balls in February of (20)14,” Kawaja said.
He said the company hopes to retain its work force from the Westminster facility but also expects additional jobs to be created, particularly as production increases.
Kawaja said the number of employees at the facility in Westminster varies depending on the time of year, ranging from 80 or 90 up to 120 people at its peak.
The new manufacturing and research-and-development facility in Pickens County will serve as TaylorMade’s North American golf ball production headquarters.
“We love the location,” Kawaja said.
“The proximity to Greenville. The proximity to our current location, which gives us the opportunity to retain our work force,” he said. “We like the fact that there’s a highly skilled work force that’s being trained and educated in the neighborhood at Clemson and at the technical college so we think recruitment-wise there’s great opportunity for talented people to join our team.”
Kawaja also cited the “business-friendly environment.”
Establishing roots in Pickens County is part of the company’s long-term commitment for its golf ball business, he said.
“We believe that it has the opportunity now that we’re making the best product to be our fastest growing category over the next five to 10 years,” Kawaja said.
“Today we’ve got over 20 players that regularly play our golf ball on the PGA tour,” he said. “We’ve got over 300 players, professional players around all of the global tours that use our golf ball, and so we’re ready to grow that business.”
Headquartered in Carlsbad, Calif., TaylorMade-adidas Golf Co. sells golf clubs, balls, clothing and accessories under the TaylorMade, adidas Golf, Adams and Ashworth brands, according to information from the state Department of Commerce.
“It’s really special for Pickens County because the company is a worldwide company and they could have chosen anywhere in the world to go,” County Administrator Chappell Hurst said.
Dave Brunette, director of ball engineering and operations for TaylorMade Golf Co., said the ball operation has been successful enough that their parent company is supportive of them building and owning a facility.
Brunette said the leased facility in Westminster is about 50 years old, and there are maintenance, size, flow and layout, and utility cost issues.
“When you’re trying to be efficient and cost-effective with your processes you end up changing the material flow,” he said. “You use different technology over the years of how you make the balls, the size and the footprint of the equipment changes and requirements change, and you’re kind of locked in a little bit with that building because those walls are all load-bearing structural walls. You can’t take them out.”
Kawaja said the new facility will be a better manufacturing environment.
“It will allow us to be more efficient. It will allow us to improve our manufacturing processes. It will allow us to realize better cost of product, which ultimately makes growth in that category a little bit sexier for us,” he said.
Kawaja said, “The big question was do we stay in the United States or do we move our production to a country in Asia.”
He said the golf ball “is more of an art than it is a science.” Owning a facility where they make their own golf balls instead of asking someone else to do it allows them to learn every day and improve.
“We learn better ways to make the golf ball perform better,” Kawaja said. “We learn ways to finish and paint and stamp and buff.”
Golf balls are the only product the company makes itself, he said.
“We design and develop all of our products, but in the case of our metal woods and our irons we have third party factories make our product for us,” Kawaja said. “In golf ball, we make them ourselves.”
TaylorMade produces about 8 million dozen golf balls in a year, Kawaja said. He expects about 2.5 million dozen to 3 million dozen to be produced at the Pickens County facility.
Kawaja said production can increase with the new facility.
Jobs at the plant include engineers and technicians among others, he said. Pay ranges depending on the position, but he said there are engineers who make six-figure salaries.
Brunette said an event to fill potential positions will likely be sometime toward the end of the year or beginning of 2014.
Pickens County Council has given preliminary approval to tax breaks for TaylorMade Golf Co., which was dubbed “Project Delta.”
Council approved an ordinance on second reading that would give approximately 26 acres in the Pickens County Commerce Park to the company, and another ordinance on second reading that would authorize the execution and delivery of a fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement and the granting of special source revenue credit.
County Council Chairman G. Neil Smith said the final readings on the ordinances are expected April 22.
Hurst said the company’s presence in Pickens County can also help the county attract other companies.
“This project will provide jobs, which we desperately need, but it will also give us another name brand company that will be recognized by everyone as they travel passed the business park on 123,” he said. “That will give us, in the future, name recognition that we can use to recruit future clients to that park as well as other areas of Pickens County.”