Chester County deal would be 4th largest in SC for job creation

05/07/2014 6:58 PM

05/07/2014 11:05 PM

If Chester County lands a manufacturing prospect the deal would be the fourth largest in terms of job creation for South Carolina since 2011.

Only Boeing in Charleston County, at 2,000 jobs, BMW in Spartanburg County, at 1,800 jobs, and Continental Tire in Sumter County, at 1,600 jobs, have proposed creating more jobs than the unidentified company negotiating with Chester County that plans to create 1,500 jobs.

The project, named “Summer” by Chester County officials, with proposed investment of $560 million would be among the top 10 in the state since 2011, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Chester County officials have released few details, but have consistently said it would be a “game-changer” for a county that has struggled with high unemployment after the collapse of the state’s textile economy.

Chester County’s unemployment rate is 7.4 percent, 11th highest in the state out of 46 counties.

“This means jobs, jobs, jobs,” County Council member Mary A. Guy said Wednesday. “The people should be happy.”

State Sen. Creighton Coleman, D-Winnsboro, said the company would bring a mix of blue- and white-collar jobs.

The council is scheduled to hold a second reading on an ordinance giving the prospective company tax breaks on May 19. A final vote could come June 2.

If that schedule doesn’t change a groundbreaking for the project could be held as early as the fall, said Coleman, who represents Chester and Fairfield counties and a portion of York County.

“This will be a great start to moving the I-77 corridor alliance forward,” Coleman said Wednesday. The alliance, which is in its infancy, is designed to help economic development efforts in Chester, Fairfield and York counties.

The project could have additional benefits beyond job creation. Education, housing, health care and other manufacturers are expected to be affected if project Summer happens, said Jim Fuller, president of the Chester County Chamber of Commerce.

Fuller said a project of this scope should result in construction of more apartments and homes in the $150,000 to $200,000 price range in the county.

The project could also positively change the health care offered in the county. Chester Regional Medical Center budgets $1 million in charity care every month.

Al Reid, plant manager for PPG Industries of Chester, said the prospect would be a “huge boost to the economic recovery, but also a challenge to current manufacturers.”

The project “could create a lot of churn,” in the manufacturing job market as companies are trying to stabilize their pool of workers, Reid said. The number of currently employed workers who would seek new jobs would depend on the wages the new company would offer, he said.

PPG Industries employs about 150 workers and is hiring, Reid said. The plant, which makes fiberglass, is operating at capacity, he said.

“Overall, it should improve the quality of life in Chester County,” he said, with an increase “in the social things such as shopping and entertainment.”

The project would “help people who have been struggling for a long time,” said John Williams, director of The Turning Point in Chester.

Turning Point operates a number of services to the unemployed and those needing help, including a food pantry, a thrift store and a men’s shelter. It has seen the need for assistance rise dramatically since 2004 when the county’s textile mills were closing, Williams said.

In 2004, its pantry served food to seven to 10 families a month. “Now we serve between 650 and 700,” Williams said.

Those who use Turning Point’s services “don’t see hope,” Williams said. Employment would “cut down on the stress” that leads to a variety of social problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, he said.

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