Sumter County Combines the Right Ingredients for Positive Growth

By Betsy Williams on September 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm EST
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Sumter County has perfected its recipe for successful economic growth, with the correct measurements of a skilled workforce, reliable infrastructure, transportation arteries, low costs, available property and pro-active leadership. The result? The largest project in Sumter County history and a steady, positive recovery in existing industry job numbers.

The big news for Sumter County is the October 2011 announcement that Continental Tire would bring 1,600 jobs and a $500 million investment to the community.

“Over the lifespan of the agreement inked between the company and the community, Continental Tire will help the community in so many ways, from payroll to increased revenue for local governments and schools,” says Jay Schwedler, president and CEO of the Sumter Development Board. “The company plans to be producing tires here in Sumter by the middle of 2013. At more than $500 million, this is the largest capital investment Sumter County has ever seen, and roughly 10 times the size of the previous largest project. With more than 1,600 guaranteed jobs coming, Continental Tire will quickly become a major player and contributor to the entire region.”

While winning the Continental Tire project in a very competitive national search is big news, it isn’t the only project that’s been cooking in Sumter County.

Existing Industries in Growth Mode

“We took some losses in the early 2000s, mostly from companies deciding to migrate toward lower labor costs,” Schwedler says, noting that since then, empty buildings have sold to new and existing industries. “The good news is we’ve stabilized and have begun to reverse those trends. Over the past year our existing industries have created more than 450 new jobs, and when you combine those with the new announcements and expansions, we had a net gain of about 650 jobs. That’s not only progress, it’s tremendous progress for a community that lost jobs year in and year out for nearly a decade.”

New and expanding companies are breathing new life into vacant buildings, with projects including Au’Some Candies, which will begin production in 2012 with 120 new jobs, and Sykes Call Center, which started as a 150-job announcement in 2009 and is now using the Sumter center as their model facility with 950 employees. Then there’s Kaydon, which has ramped up its Sumter workforce to about 400 employees, investing more than $40 million in a series of expansions.

“The area is very supportive of its industrial partners, and the leadership provides tremendous help at the local and state levels, helping us to be successful,” says Al Hubbard, plant manager at Kaydon Plant 12 and a Sumter native. “The education systems are willing to do what it takes to develop the potential workforce, and you’ve got the people in the area who are very committed to doing a good job.”

Sumter's Can-Do Attitude

Schwedler credits the success to the community’s “American Spirit, Global Edge” can-do approach to business. “We have a great community that has proven time and again that we are among the best at taking care of our business. When you couple that with the strength of our military assets in the region, and specifically with regard to our partners at Shaw Air Force Base, we are an attractive place to call home.”

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