By Nikie Mayo
TaylorMade Golf Company will invest $13 million to build a new golf ball production plant in Pickens County and will shutter its operations in nearby Westminster, corporation officials said Wednesday.
The new 120,000-square-foot plant in Liberty will serve as TaylorMade’s North American golf ball production headquarters. Executive Vice President John Kawaja said the company plans to produce its tour-level golf balls, those used by professional golfers, at the new plant, which will be nestled alongside several other companies at the Pickens County Commerce Park. The company plans to break ground on the new plant in May, to complete construction by next January and to send its first golf balls out of the facility by February 2014. The transition from Westminster to Liberty is expected to be complete by July 2014, officials said.
Company officials made the expansion announcement at the county administration building in Pickens.
Kawaja said one of the reasons the company chose Pickens County is because of its nearness to the Westminster plant in neighboring Oconee County.
“We want to bring as many members of our current workforce as we can from Oconee,” he said. “Of course, some of them are nearing retirement age, so we don’t know if they will move with us. And some of the people who work in the Westminster plant live on the other side of it and are already driving 25 miles to work. We don’t know if they will drive 40 or 50 miles to work at the new plant.”
The number of employees at the Westminster plant varies depending on the time of year, but at the height of the production season the plant employs about 125 people, Kawaja said.
Joel Thrift, chairman of the Oconee County Council, said officials there had prior knowledge that the company might move.
“We did all things possible to retain the plant,” Thrift said. “Our economic development team did everything they could and they still left. It’s a disappointment, but we will pick up and move forward.”
Ray Farley, executive director of Alliance Pickens, told the Independent Mail the new plant would initially mean 125 new jobs for his county. That number is expected to grow over time.
Kawaja said the company has been leasing the building that houses its Westminster plant and has spent about 15 months looking for “a permanent home.”
The lease at the Westminster plant is up soon, Kawaja said. He said that moving company operations into a new building will allow TaylorMade to improve its production process and to make golf balls more efficiently.
“We will realize a better cost of product, which will ultimately make growth in that category sexier for us,” Kawaja said.
TaylorMade is a brand of the TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Company, which sells golf clubs, balls, clothing and accessories. Besides TaylorMade, its brands include Adams, Ashworth and Adidas Golf. The company posted 2012 sales that exceeded $1.3 billion, and Kawaja said golf balls account for about $100 million of the business. The golf company is based in Carlsbad, Calif. It is part of the Adidas Group, which has its headquarters in Germany.
Kawaja said the company hopes to significantly ramp up its golf ball production in the next five years.
The company produces 8 million dozen golf balls a year, and will make at least 2.5 million dozen at the plant in Liberty.
“We hope to increase that number to 4 million dozen coming out of the Pickens County plant pretty soon,” Kawaja said.
The Pickens County Council has given preliminary approval to incentives for the company.
Those incentives include an annual fee-in-lieu-of-tax payment that the company will make to Pickens County. The specific amount of that payment was not available Wednesday, but it would translate to an annual tax break for the company that would last for decades.
The council has also agreed to give TaylorMade 26 acres in the Pickens County Commerce Park. Inclusion in a business park can make a company eligible for state incentives.
The county incentives require one more vote from the council before they are made final.
Pickens County Council Chairman Neil Smith said the company’s decision to put a new plant here is a testament to “the pro-business approach” in South Carolina.
Farley said that while landing TaylorMade’s plant is a significant victory for Pickens County, it is also important for the state.
“They were looking at moving to Georgia,” Farley said. “We worked hard to keep them in South Carolina — not just for Pickens County, but for Oconee County and for South Carolina.”
In a prepared statement, Gov. Nikki Haley heralded Wednesday’s announcement.
“South Carolina is home to a number of world-class, well-known brands, and it’s great to see another one choose to grow in the Palmetto State,” she said.
Tom Strange, chairman of Alliance Pickens, said a lot of people had worked together to land the TaylorMade plant.
“This works,” he said, “because we are a county blessed with an enlightened populace and an enlightened government.”
By Nikie Mayo