Diverse Manufacturing Base Boosts Florence Economy

On Sunday, June 17, 2012 - 23:29
Over the years, the world’s businesses have come to the Pee Dee to set up shop. And after finding a skilled workforce, generous incentives and an outstanding quality of life, they’ve put down deep roots. Efforts to lure national and international companies have hit pay dirt, generating investment in industries from ATV manufacturing to biomedical research and development. That broad appeal has created a diverse and sound manufacturing sector, one that continues to swell its ranks even as other regions of the country see a drop-off in activity. Pharmaceutical companies have a strong presence in Florence County and continue to invest heavily in their operations. Roche Carolina has pumped $60 million into a plant expansion, doubling its manufacturing capacity. The decision to do so at its 310-employee plant is a coup for the area, says Pete Mazzaroni, public affairs manager. “This represents the largest investment that Roche has made in any of its chemical plants since breaking ground here in 1992,” Mazzaroni says. “This reflects positively on our workforce here, but also on the company’s confidence in South Carolina as a good place to invest.” IRIX Pharmaceuticals Inc. added a 1,500-square-foot quality control laboratory in spring 2009, as well as two warehouses with 4,000 square feet of space. The two projects combined cost about $2 million, says Miriam Swiler, vice president of human resources and public relations. “We started here in 1997 with two employees, and now have 100 on this site and have added a site in Greenville with 50 employees,” Swiler says. “The success factors are here: good business climate, excellent educational and training facilities with a well-educated and trained workforce, great quality of life and a wonderfully mild climate. We have proven that it is easy to recruit high-level scientists to this area, and the business climate is excellent.” It’s been less about expansion and more about retooling at Honda of South Carolina Manufacturing’s Timmonsville plant, but reorganizing into a leaner operation is paying dividends for that outfit as well, says Jeff Helton, assistant vice president of administration. Honda produces nine different models of ATVs in the region, and has about 600 employees. “We’ve rebalanced the line and are ramping back up,” Helton says. “We’re moving in the right direction and are ready to handle additional production requirements. We’ve streamlined and become very efficient, and had the chance to refocus as well.” All those scientists and assembly line workers have to eat, so it’s a good thing McCall Farms continues to grow its local presence. The Effingham producer of canned fruits and vegetables has been expanding its frozen-food operation, and undertook a $3.9 million plant expansion for vegetable freezing that should add around 40 jobs, bringing McCall’s workforce up to around 180 people. “We expanded our initial investment into freezing and it’s doing really well,” says Woody Swink, sales manager. “Now we’re looking at expanding our dry-goods warehousing due to the growth in our canning operation.” Echoing his manufacturing counterparts, Swink says his company’s success is deeply woven into the area itself. “From getting our raw products to recruiting good people and finding our end users, it’s a great place to be,” he says. “Ultimately, our people are why we are where we are; they’re the ones that got us here.”