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Greenville Leverages Diverse Economy to Sustain Growth During COVID and Beyond

While the pandemic put the brakes on economic growth in communities around the globe, Greenville managed to maintain momentum – fitting for a region known as the “economic engine of South Carolina.”

By April Wortham Collins on September 21, 2021

More than two dozen companies announced projects in the Greenville area in 2020, totaling $631 million in capital investment and creating more than 1,400 jobs. Even at the peak of the pandemic, the region continued to add to its already diverse roster of international businesses and industries, thanks to a skilled workforce, affordable quality of life, strategic location and pro-business climate.

Center of Commerce

“Greenville has always been the entrepreneurial center of the state, really,” says Lynn Harton, chairman and CEO of United Community Bank, which, in February 2020, announced plans to locate its corporate headquarters in Greenville. “When you go back in history, Greenville is where the people came to build the manufacturing plants to turn the cotton coming up from Charleston into textiles and fabrics. So, it’s that mindset of ‘Let’s start something. Let’s build something.’” Harton says Greenville’s business-friendly reputation and affordable quality of life are among the top reasons that United Community Bank chose Greenville as the site of its new $24.8 million headquarters. The project is expected to create 227 new jobs and will make United Community Bank the largest bank headquartered in South Carolina, a state already known for its financial services.

Big Enough, Small Enough

Greenville’s location along the high-growth Interstate 85 corridor, midway between Atlanta and Charlotte, also gives the area an edge when recruiting talent, Harton says, noting that Greenville offers the cultural amenities of much larger cities at a lower cost of living.

“We pitch Greenville the same way we pitch our bank: It’s big enough, but it’s small enough,” he says. “You’ve got the quality of life you’re looking for – great restaurants, a terrific arts scene with the Peace Center, the Greenville County Museum of Art. You’ve got the Greenville Symphony Orchestra. You’ve really got whatever you’re looking for here. Greenville has got a national presence as being a great place to live.”

Make that an international presence. In addition to the more than 40 Fortune 500 companies that have operations here and over 20 headquarters operations that call Greenville home, the region also boasts more than 240 international companies and the most foreign investment per capita in the country.

Major Players

Michelin North America, the world’s largest tire maker, employs more than 4,000 people in Greenville, where the company has its North American headquarters, as well as a major manufacturing facility and a research and development center. BMW’s manufacturing plant in neighboring Spartanburg has spawned thousands of automotive supplier jobs in Greenville County, as well as the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville.

Other big names in the region include IBM, GE Gas Power and Lockheed Martin, which, in December 2020, won a $900 million contract to provide sustainment support for the F-16 aircraft for the U.S. Air Force. Opened in 1984, Lockheed Martin’s Greenville facility is already home to the F-16 Fighting Falcon production line. The new, 10-year contract adds repair, maintenance and upgrade work for F-16s traditionally performed at U.S. Air Force bases.

A highly skilled workforce with experience in advanced manufacturing made Greenville an attractive location for Lockheed Martin in the 1980s, and that’s still true today, even as the aerospace industry expands in South Carolina, says Leslie Farmer, communications lead for the Greenville facility.

“We pitch Greenville the same way we pitch our bank: It’s big enough, but it’s small enough.”

Lynn Harton

United Community Bank

To keep the pipeline of workers full, Lockheed Martin works closely with local and state partners, such as Greenville Technical College, the state’s readySC workforce program and the South Carolina Technical College System. In 2020, Lockheed Martin launched its firstever Pre-Apprenticeship program, which provides participants with realindustry training and a leg-up when applying or jobs at the company’s Greenville facility.

“We’ve been able to create those learning opportunities and programs to not only attract new employees into Lockheed Martin, but also to really transform the existing skill set of our current workforce to be able to support programs like F-16 production and sustainment,” Farmer says.

On the Front Line

While Greenville continues to play on its strengths as a manufacturing hub to attract investment in the advanced materials, automotive and aviation/aeronautics sectors, the region is focused on economic diversity.

With a roster of pharmaceutical and medical device companies, such as Bausch & Lomb, Nutra Manufacturing and International Vitamin Corp. (IVC), the Greenville region has positioned itself well for life sciences growth.

Some of these companies, such as Hoowaki, a manufacturer of medical swabs, and Softbox Systems, a global provider of passive temperature control packaging solutions, were leaders in the COVID-19 response.

Multiple data centers are located in the Greenville area, including Armada Analytics Inc., a real estate consulting company that in December 2020 announced plans to relocate and expand its Greenville operations as part of a $1 million investment that created 33 new jobs.

Founded in 2006, Armada Analytics provides high-quality commercial real estate underwriting research and analysis services tailored specifically to each client’s needs.

The company serves a variety of clients, including government programs, banks, insurance companies, lenders, pension funds and others.

The expansion allows for future growth and promotes a creative and collaborative work experience. The new facilities will function as an educational destination for training employees and clients all across the country.

“We have called Greenville our home for more than 10 years and look forward to the next 10. We are excited about our investment and our future growth in the city,” says Armada Analytics Chairman Zack Devier.

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