EASLEY — Officials with Kongsberg Automotive have been dealing with a problem that many company officials would like to have — their businesses was growing too large for their existing facilities in Pickens. Due to rapid growth, Kongsberg needed to double current plant capacity. Company officials considered moving the plant — which manufactures aerospace, truck and automotive components, out of Pickens County or out of state. That could have meant a loss of 100 local jobs. But not only is the plant staying in the area, it will be expanding with a $7.3 million investment that should create 300 new jobs over the next five years. “We’re going to be staying in Pickens County,” said Plant Manager Matt McKinnon. “We all win. The county wins. The state wins. Our people especially win. We don’t have to relocate. We’re going to maintain all that expertise — that’s the thing that excites us the most.
“South Carolina is very pro-business,” McKinnon said, of the decision to stay within the state. He said the company will have a positive local impact. “Having that payroll, spending that within the community, it’s going to have a major impact,” McKinnon said. The company hopes to begin hiring for the new positions in early 2012, McKinnon said. “Once we get moved, probably in the new year,” he said. Candace Moore, Kongsberg Automotive HR Manager, said pay scale will be based on experience. “We will be creating everything from manufacturing all the way up to engineering,” she said. “We pay for skill. It depends on the level of experience and expertise, it’s based on that. We are still creating positions as we go. As the facility changes, the needs will change. But for the most part, most of our hiring will begin in January.” Those interested in applying for the Kongsberg Automotive positions can apply at the Liberty One-Stop office, Moore said. The expansion was announced Tuesday morning at Tri-County Technical College’s Easley campus. Alliance Pickens Executive Director said county officials and Alliance Pickens officials have been working with the company for the past 18-24 months to find a local solution to the plant’s growth issues. “We’d all like to have growth issues during a recession,” Farley said. County Council chairman Jennifer Willis said that the company will be relocating to Easley, to the former site of Confluence Watersports. The company is slated to begin moving to the Confluence facility next week. With Thanksgiving approaching, Willis said she was thankful for many things “I’m thankful for Kongsberg Automotive,” she said. “That’s wonderful news.” She’s also thankful for Pickens County Council and County Administrator Chapp Hurst for looking “a variety of scenarios” to retain Kongsberg Automotive in Pickens County. “We believe that when business succeeds in Pickens County, our people succeed,” Willis said. “Since June of 2011, not even six months ago, we have announced 547 jobs and $26.4 million in investment. I am very thankful that we are able to do that in today’s economic climate.” The current plant began life as Tevis Machine Products, which was founded in 1989 by Earl Tevis, a Pickens County entrepreneur. Tevis sold the sold in 1999 to Teleflex. Kongsberg Automotive acquired the operated in 2007. “That’s a lasting impact,” said Alliance Pickens Dr. Ronnie Booth, thanking Earl Tevis for his initial idea and all his hard work. “One person can make a heck of a difference. Where we are today is a testament is ideas, starting at a granular level and building to a significant platform for the community.” Booth recalled a conversation he had with Farley earlier that day. “Ray asked, ‘Where else in South Carolina today are we announcing not just keeping 100-plus jobs but adding 300?’” Booth said. “Today’s a special day not just for Pickens County, for Kongsberg, but for our community, our state and our nation. It shows the world we can do some things pretty well. We just need to be a little hard-headed and get them done.” Today the company approaches $1 billion in sales, McKinnon said. The company’s primarily market is diesel trucks. “We’re in commercial vehicles, specialty, buses and some automobiles,” he said.
Farley said the choice of venue for the announcement — the Easley campus — was appropriate as it is one of two Pickens County technical training facilities in Pickens County “that will help guide the job growth in our community in the next few years.” The other facility Farley referred to is the Pickens County Career and Technology Center. “We’re fortunate to have these two facilities in our community now,” Farley said. The existence of those facilities played a role in Kongsberg Automotive’s decision to expand, McKinnon said. “ReadySC, the state initiative, there’s training incentives involved in that,” he said. “That’s very attractive to us.” Farley agreed.
“The workforce in our community, the young workforce and the more tenured workforce … in our community are truly instrumental in helping us see additional jobs come into the community, helping existing industries grow and expand, and helping us attract interest from other potential job investors from not only around the country, but around the world,” Farley said. “We are truly blessed to be where we are.” The area workforce is an asset “that makes businesses happy to come here,” Willis said. “Our employees do a good job, and they want a good job and they are grateful for the opportunities, but it makes life much easier for Kongsberg Automotive when they have a skilled workforce that’s ready to go to work, ready to learn new skills and ready to do the things to help them succeed,” Willis said. “We are thrilled with that.” McKinnon praised local leadership for helping the company with its decision. “They’re really business-friendly people,” McKinnon said. “They get it.”