Sumter’s future literally is looking up.
The aviation and aerospace technology industries rank high among the areas that city leaders have identified for potential growth, says Jay Schwedler, president and CEO of the Sumter Economic Development Board
. This goal is the result of a long and thorough planning process that has included identifying the city’s assets and resources.
Shaw Air Force Base
Since 1941, Sumter has been home to Shaw Air Force Base
. It’s home to the 20th Fighter Wing of the Air Combat Command, a unit that houses and supports the country’s largest operational F-16 wing. Shaw continues to grow. Sumter will welcome some 1,400 members of the 3rd Army and their families when Georgia’s Fort McPherson closes next year.
The pool of former service men and women gives Sumter an edge when it comes to attracting new business, says Tom Olsen, a retired United States Air Force Major General who served as deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw. A recent study shows that of the 15,000 workers in South Carolina with aviation skills, more than 6,000 live in the Sumter area.
“We have a highly skilled, highly capable workforce with an excellent work ethic,” Olsen says. “The average retiree has 10 to 20 years of experience working with all aspects of aircraft operations and maintenance.”
Motivated Labor Pool
Over the years, Sumter has proven hospitable to industry, with about 16 percent of area workers involved in manufacturing. Eaton Corporation
, a Cleveland-based manufacturer of electrical products, employs more than 500 people at their Sumter facility. Plant manager Dan Yount says the Development Board is on target with their assessment of the local labor pool.
“Our experience with the workforce in Sumter is that people are very motivated,” Yount says. “They are very eager to learn and very energized about being real partners in your business."
Another notable asset is the city’s location. Sumter sits just off I-95, about 50 miles from the state’s capitol in Columbia and 100 miles from the deep-port city of Charleston. Perhaps more important to Sumter’s ability to attract aviation businesses, though, is its proximity to North Charleston, which will soon to be home to a plant that will manufacture Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner
Schwedler predicts that many aviation-related businesses will look to relocate to the area once the Boeing plant is up and running, and Sumter is poised to capitalize on this trend. The city has been buying parcels of land for development, much of it adjacent to the Sumter Municipal Airport
, and they’re working to get it certified to state standards.
Strategic Plan for Growth
While Sumter has yet to lure any companies to the area, Schwedler believes Sumter’s strategic plan is more than pie-in-the-sky dreaming.
“A lot of the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit together,” he notes. “We just have to keep chipping away. We feel like we have an incredible opportunity to be a community that supports these industries.”
As with any worthwhile endeavor there are real challenges. The competition for such businesses is stiff. Sumter competes with much larger cities including Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville, and leaders must aggressively pursue new business opportunities.
“Timing is critical,” Schwedler says. “We cannot wait for them to seek us out. We’ve got to go knock on their doors.”