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Upstate economic developers see investment spike

Molly Hulsey //August 26, 2020//

Upstate economic developers see investment spike

Molly Hulsey //August 26, 2020//

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The country’s economic rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic may not be “V-shaped,” but investment in the Upstate, especially in medical equipment and biopharmaceutical companies, has picked up over the summer, regional economic development leaders said.

Mark Farris, president and CEO of Greenville Area Development Corp., and John Lummus, president and CEO of Upstate SC Alliance, shared an update on the area’s economic vitals during an Aug. 25 virtual presentation hosted by the Greenville Chamber.

“Our activity has been off, but again, not near as much as we thought,” Lummus said during the meeting. “We are still working a number of active leads, sending out what we call RFIs — requests for information. A lot of areas, I think life sciences and PPE manufacturing, have been really popular for us, obviously, and then food and beverage has been active, and then really, a lot of general manufacturing projects have seen opportunities.”

Lummus said several distribution companies have also reached out to the group with an interest in reshoring their supply chain, believing the Palmetto State could be poised to become an economic oasis as the country climbs out of financial hardship.

“After the economic downturn back in 2009, 2010, our area rebounded more quickly than almost any area in the country, and one of our counties actually was the quickest rebounding county of any east of the Mississippi,” he said. “I think that’s what we have going for us.”

Through the Upstate SC Alliance, Lummus attracts companies to the 10-county Upstate region and connects prospective leads to local economic development groups.

Lummus said the Upstate has seen a successful economic reopening, and he attributed it to area manufacturers and the close relationship between business and government in the Upstate and the state as a whole.

Still, company recruitment has had to put on a new coat to be effective in a socially distanced world, one that relies heavily on industry-targeted mailings, Zoom calls and a focus on the domestic market — while remaining in touch with international liaisons.

“This is a relationship business, and people actually have to visit and stand on each property in order to make that final decision, so until we can start doing that again, things aren’t to be back to the level that they were, but I think once we’re able to open up, we’re going to be ahead of a lot of people,” he said.

Farris said Greenville County’s economic development arm has experienced a slower year, as expected as well. They are down by about 30% compared with last year. But even though few prospects were willing to travel to Greenville in late spring, summer saw not only a gradual uptick in visits — six out of 16 contacts led to in-person visits — but also a spike in capital investment and jobs created.

Data presented during the event saw year-to-date capital investment creep just above the $20 million mark in spring but jump to levels above $80 million starting in July, alongside 635 jobs announced. In July, the number reached almost $93 million. About three-fourths of the expanded industries were manufacturing and distribution companies, but Farris said there was also some interest in office space.

“The office environment, however, has picked up for us significantly,” he said. “A couple years ago, that number would have been half of 27%, but we’re starting to see a lot more office projects, a lot more innovation technology companies, and we’re excited about that because that represents a diversification in Greenville and an evolution of our business economy.”

Since the beginning of 2020, GADC has helped attract 11 companies to the county. Typical targets include aviation, automotive and advanced materials. Automotive and aviation prospects have slowed but interest from food production companies — not a typical sector for the region — has picked up along with queries from the distribution, pharmaceutical and medical supply industries.

Companies that have taken advantage of lower construction costs and found opportunity during the pandemic will emerge from the economic downturn is a stronger position once consumer confidence is restored, Farris said.