By Jason Evans
PICKENS COUNTY — Local officials say that JR Automation Technologies, LLC will not only bring at least 54 new jobs to Pickens County, but will also have a great impact on area businesses as well. Officials with the Michigan-based automated specialty equipment company announced on Tuesday that it will be expanding to Pickens County, opening a facility in Pickens, at the site of the former Pace Plating Technology facility on Walhalla Highway. “In addition to the capital investment that JR Automation is making, and the creation of these new jobs, they will utilizing local shops for approximately 30 percent of their production,” said County Council Chairman Jennifer Willis said. “We are thrilled to have them here. JR Automation is a company that does what Americans do best — they solve problems. “They chose Pickens County because of our business community, because we can welcome them, because we have tremendous resources, in our workforce, in our students, in our schools and in our career centers, with Tri-County Tech and Clemson University,” she continued. “It’s 54 jobs, direct jobs,” said Alliance Pickens Executive Director Ray Farley. “But in our opinion, perhaps the bigger story here is the impact it’s going to have on our local small businesses. JR has been out pounding the pavement literally lining up their supplier base locally. And I can tell you that they’ve not gone very far outside of the confines of our town of Pickens to go out and get that supplier base, and we’re very grateful for that.” Alliance Pickens Chairman Dr. Ronnie Booth said that the fact that the company is bringing new jobs to Pickens by expanding — not shutting down an existing facility and relocating — was wonderful.
“It’s good to see new jobs created in the community,” he said. “But it’s better to know that they’re not moving from someplace else. It’s an expansion of what JR does. It’s a new opportunity — still keeping their Michigan facilities, but being closer to some of their customers is a good thing. We can all celebrate together.” “It’s good to see a new company come in, but it’s even better to see them take an existing building and make good use of an existing facility that’s there, that needed some work,” Booth said. “That’s a good thing for all of us.” Seeing products roll off an assembly line is fun, Booth said. “But what’s even better is seeing the brains behind the machines,” Booth said. “The people that make the things that make things, the people that make the machines that make things happen. That’s what JR Automation is all about.” Those 54 jobs the company is bringing to Pickens will create other jobs in area companies, Booth said. “That’s the multiplier effect we often talk about,” he said. “It’s nice to see that in a very tangible way.” “We are very, very excited to be here,” said Bryan Jones, Vice President of JR Automation Technologies. JR Automation customers run the gamut from automotive manufactures to pharmaceutical to food processing companies, Jones said “Anyone that manufactures or processes something is a potential customer for our businesses,” he said. “The kind of stuff we build is the kind of equipment that you can’t just go to a catalog and buy. You can go to a catalog and a buy a drill; you can go to a catalog and buy a vice. But to put them together into an automatic drilling machine where I just put the part in and it automatically drills and does the quality checks — that’s the kind of equipment where we integrate a lot of things.” Being involved with area suppliers is crucial to the company, Jones said. “We seek out companies that do components,” he said. “Then we’ll buy those components and put them together in a system.” He said the company will always try to outsource about 30 percent of its work to local companies. The company currently employs nearly 300 people in its two Michigan facilities, Jones said. The company is currently retrofitting the former Pace Plating facility to fit its needs. Jones said the company will utilize all 20,000 square feet of the facility, and could possibly expand further. He thanked all the local officials and companies who have been helping the company open its Pickens facility, from officials with Blue Ridge Electric and Duke Energy to inspectors. “It was phenomenal, working with the individuals in this area, in just how quickly they were able to respond to our needs to make all this happen,” Jones said. Jones said his company did about $80 million in automated special equipment in the past year. “Our business is considerably different than manufacturing — every job we do is an one-off, specially engineered solution to a problem,” he said. “We build the manufacturing equipment that our customers then use in their businesses to manufacture parts. It involves a great deal of talent.” He said company officials look forward to developing that talent base within Pickens County. “We are extremely excited about the education that is taking place within your county already,” Jones said. “It is important to America; there is no question about it. The educational base that you’re developing will make a difference.
“The tech schools, the college, the different things that are going on from that perspective, it’s just huge for our business, to have that sort of thing going on locally,” he said. Farley said one thing that interested company officials were the success of local Robotics and Mechatronics programs — whose students are competing on a national and an international level. “Our robotics students won the NC Regional Championship,” Farley said. “They took on the best that the Research Triangle had to throw at our kids — and our kids beat them. That’s germane to our announcement today. It’s in part the reason we’re celebrating today. It’s a good testimonial for our community.” Jones agreed. “Having the technical programs in the schools is great,” he said. “One of the things that we really hope to bring to the community is to show a different side of education — the things that you can do, the things that you can learn with that education and some of the possibilities that are out there.” The company is currently hiring for the new Pickens location, Jones said. “We’re looking for mechanical engineers, controls engineers, any kind of engineering, as well as build positions — machine build, machine plumbing, machine wiring,” Jones said. Pay is based on the talent set. “There is wide pay scale,” Jones said. “More of our jobs will be on the technical side.” “Our local industry has the technical mettle to do very high-level technical manufacturing,” Farley said. Mandy Brawley, Project Manager for the South Carolina Department of Commerce, said bringing the company to Pickens was “truly a team effort.” She thanked company officials for “seeing and recognizing the benefits of doing business in South Carolina.” “We recognize that this project could have gone anywhere and we thank you for bringing it to Pickens and to South Carolina,” Brawley said.
By Jason Evans