By Jason Evans
COUNTY — A new neighbor is moving into the “world-class neighborhood” that is the Pickens County Commerce Park.
The company, era-contact GmbH, a world market leader in electrical railway couplings, announced last week that it will be locating its North American manufacturing headquarters in Pickens County.
The $3.4 million investment is expected to create 45 new jobs in Pickens County, era-contact USA managing director Jochen Kurz said last Wednesday morning.
Company ofﬁcials toured the Pickens County Commerce Park earlier this year, he said.
“We saw the neighbors, we saw the construction going on here and we were absolutely impressed,” Kurz said. “It was love at ﬁrst sight.”
That visit led to a handshake agreement between Alliance Pickens director Ray Farley and company founder Erich Aichele.
Alliances Pickens executive director Ray Farley said era-contact will be the newest resident in the “world-class neighborhood” that is the Pickens County Commerce Park
“That is not normal in our business,” Kurz said.
Farley agreed. He said after company ofﬁcials’ “really, really good two-day visit” to the area, including meetings with county ofﬁcials and ofﬁcials with the Pickens County Career and Technology Center, Aichele told him he was ready to sign contracts then and there.
Farley said he had to tell Aichele that there were hoops to go through ﬁrst, including three readings of ordinances regarding incentives. But the two men did shake hands, agreeing to go back to their bosses — Pickens County Council and Frau Aichele, respectively.
“All of this from a handshake,” Farley said. “Once we did the handshake, the real work started.”
“Now we are back here in Pickens County to sign the contracts,” Kurz said.
The Pickens County facility is expected to be operational in 2017.
Kurz gave a brief overview of era-contact and its parent, the Aichele Group.
The company currently employs 720 employees at eight locations on four continents. Locations include Germany, China, Turkey and Tunisia. The company has a small sales facility in Hauppauge, N.Y., but all North American operations will be located in Pickens County.
“The business is growing and growing,” Kurz said.
Locating in Upstate South Carolina will allow the company to better serve its customers, which include BMW and Siemens.
“We are customer-oriented,” Kurz said.
The Pickens County Career and Technology Center’s work goes hand-in-hand with the company’s philosophies, combining theory with hands-on best practices.
“It’s something we were very impressed with,” Kurz said. “It’s our intention to bring young people into our facility to educate them on best practices, practical issues and the theoretical things they have at the technology center. That’s the next step. That’s very important for us.”
Farley said the company will join the commerce park’s neighborhood of leaders in their ﬁeld — including Adidas, TaylorMade, Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co. and more.
Before the announcement, Pickens County Council members held a special called meeting where they passed some incentives for the company, including a fee-in-lieu-of-tax agreement.
“Now for the fun part,” county council chairwoman Jennifer Willis said as she adjourned the meeting. With that, the veil was lifted on the economic development previously known only as “Project Big Apple.”
“The most successful businesses are those who adapt and innovate and add value to their customers,” Willis said. “era-contact GmbH is an international, state-of-the art manufacturing company.”
The company is headquartered in Bretton, Germany, and manufactures products for transmitting signals, data and power in small spaces. These applications are used in subways, rail and automotive industries.
“era-contact GmbH is a world leader in an electrical railway and subway couplings, ” Willis said. “They earned this market position with laser-like focus on their product, their customers and their goals. This world leader could have gone anywhere, and yet they chose Pickens County. Why? Because Pickens County Council understands business.”
“County council worked very doggedly to expedite getting us to where we are today,” he said.
When businesses succeed and grow, “every one of our citizens beneﬁt directly and indirectly,” Willis said.
The initial structure will be a 38,000-square-foot facility, with room to grow up to 90,000 square feet. Job application information will become available as construction of the manufacturing facility nears completion.
Aichele thanked everyone for their support and said he hoped they could have an opening ceremony sometime next year.
After the announcement, attendees enjoyed cake in honor of Frau Aichele’s recent birthday.
By Jason Evans