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Record levels of investment, jobs in Oconee County

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By Teresa C. Hopkins
thopkins@scbiznews.com
Published Nov. 10, 2015

Economic development in Oconee County has reached record levels, and several projects in the works may help the county continue a record-breaking trend in 2016. Richard Blackwell, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance, said the record year has included $53.4 million in capital investment with 426 jobs already announced.

“Really, it’s our best year on the capital investment side since 2011. And on the job creation side, we haven’t seen this many jobs created since 2007,” he said.

Economic developers in Oconee County are in discussions with Michelin, which may invest somewhere between $175 million to $250 million and add 150-300 jobs at the Golden Corner Commerce Park in Fair Play. (Photo provided)
Economic developers in Oconee County are in discussions with Michelin, which may invest somewhere between $175 million to $250 million and add 150-300 jobs at the Golden Corner Commerce Park in Fair Play. (Photo provided)
Blackwell said the county will make additional economic development related announcements by the end of this year or early 2016. The potential announcements relate to development at the Oconee Industry and Technology Park and include Project Mackinaw and Project Thermal.

Project Mackinaw is the code name given to the potential development of the 300,000-square-foot pad at the industrial park on S.C. Highway 11. Blackwell didn’t name the company in Project Mackinaw but said it is a BMW supplier.

The other developed pad at the industrial park is slated for Project Thermal, which is in the early ordinance phase of approval. Blackwell was not ready to announce the company involved with Project Thermal.

Blackwell said both companies, Project Mackinaw and Project Thermal, are slated to start construction in the first quarter of 2016.

“We are very blessed that we have a growing economy in the county and community leaders who are focused on continuing to build on what makes Oconee County special,” Blackwell said.

Over the last three to 3 1/2 years, the county has announced a little more than 900 new jobs and close to $190 million in capital investments, according to Blackwell.

The Made in Oconee campaign

Manufacturing growth in Oconee County led to the recent launch of Made in Oconee, a multilayered campaign to highlight manufacturing in the county. The campaign kicked off with the release of a video that features high school students sharing their ideas of what manufacturing is, followed by comments from manufacturing employees in the county, from companies such as Itron Inc. and Sealed Air. The nine-minute video asks questions such as “What is manufacturing? Where are things made?”

“We thought it was important to have the conversation come from people actually in manufacturing roles in the county,” said Caroline Warner, marketing and research manager for the Oconee Economic Alliance, who spearheaded the campaign. “I’ve worked in a manufacturing facility before, right after college. The No. 1 question people had about my working there was ‘Is it dirty?’ ”

Warner said there are widespread misconceptions about manufacturing among the county’s future workforce.

“The campaign is for students and their parents and anyone who doesn’t fully understand manufacturing and manufacturing in Oconee County. We want this to be a conversation starter,” Warner said.

The next step in the Made in Oconee campaign is for the students to visit one of the featured manufacturing facilities and meet the workers.

A holding pattern

A couple of developments in the county are in a holding pattern right now. Blackwell said the county’s work with Michelin to locate in the Golden Corner Commerce Park in Fair Play and with Sanctuary Pointe near the Georgia state line are awaiting outside approvals.

“We are still having very active discussions with Michelin. They’re just trying to figure out some things. This would be the East Coast distribution hub for Michelin North America; so this isn’t just one building, it is a supply chain hub. A lot of discussions have to take place,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said incentives have been approved via the S.C. Department of Commerce and the Coordinating Council, and incentives via the ordinances have been approved by Oconee County Council.

“For about the last year, we’ve been waiting on Michelin to complete the land transaction portion of the deal, to take ownership of the property and begin construction,” Blackwell said. “That is the only thing we lack. We have a purchase option agreement in place with the company, but they haven’t acted on that purchase option agreement, so unfortunately we’re still waiting.

“But it’s a deal that’s worth waiting for. They’re looking to invest somewhere between $175 million to $250 million and create between 150 to 300 jobs.”

Developer Sanctuary Pointe LLC is planning a 325-acre resort on Hartwell Lake near the Georgia state line. A new master plan is awaiting approval from the Corps of Engineers. The original plan, which was approved, has been edited to include the Great Outdoors Center.

“We fully anticipate them saying yes to the slight modification,” Blackwell said.

Sanctuary Pointe LLC has plans to develop the site to include two hotels and a marina. Blackwell said the investment numbers are anywhere from $150 million on the low side to $250 million.

The Great Outdoors Center is an initiative of the S.C. National Heritage Corridor to get people to experience the outdoors of the Palmetto State. Plans for the center include visitor services, classrooms, training rooms, outdoor recreation retail and a veteran’s center.

Reach Teresa C. Hopkins at 864-235-5677, ext. 103

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