By Stan Welch
Burriss Nelson, Anderson County’s Director of Economic Development, gave a presentation on the achievements of his department to the First Monday group. His presentation to the non- partisan political group was filled with impressive statistics about jobs and capital investment and annual payrolls.
For example, he informed the audience that since 2010, the county had experienced nearly three billion dollars in capital investment and seen the creation of fifty five hundred jobs, in the manufacturing sector of the economy alone. Those accomplishments resulted in Nelson being named the number one economic development official in the state his year; an achievement he declined to mention until County Councilman Tom Allen brought it up.
Nelson sees no loss of momentum in the job creation arena. “The fact is that we are likely to see that many more jobs created in the coming years. We are at three point one per cent unemployment, which basically means that everyone who wants a job has one. That’s the good news.”
“The bad news is also that we’re at three point one per cent unemployment, which means we are out of labor. The problem is a lack of training and education needed to fill these new, more technical manufacturing jobs as they appear. We also have approximately fifteen thousand people who are under-employed; people who could fill some of those jobs with additional training.”
He referred to Arthrex, a manufacturer of medical device and replacement technologies, which include artificial joints, as well as soft tissue replacement items such as artificial tendons and valves. “They will produce 2000 jobs in the next few years; but their standards for machining almost microscopic screws and other devices will require 1200 specially trained machinists in the next six years. That is a tremendous challenge.”
One unusual approach to the training and education issue is the formation of the Development Association of Anderson County, a cooperative effort between the County and private business.
Nelson is the CEO of the association, which also includes forty private donors, such as Duke Energy, and Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. Donors provide funding for new and innovative methods.
He said one new method being considered is the subsidizing of wages for companies that will hire people and provide on the job training.
Nelson also reminded the audience that in 2010, Anderson County had fourteen thousand unemployed.
In the next couple of years, after a tremendous cooperative effort between county, state and federal elected officials, and various agencies, what Nelson called the game changer became a reality.
That event took place when Anderson county secured the commitment of the First Quality company to locate their major expansion in Anderson.
The results of that decision have resulted in more than a thousand jobs and $1.6 billion – (one billion six hundred million dollars) in capital investment. “We may very well reach the two billion dollar mark before they are through,” said Nelson.
Additional major developments followed – some new companies and others in the form of major expansions of existing industries.
Electrolux, Michelin, TTI, and Arthrex are all major contributors to a rise in wages from an average of $13.98 an hour in 2010 to an average wage today of $18.06. Just four of numerous companies cited produce a combined annual payroll of two hundred twenty million dollars.
But big companies are not the only element in Anderson’s job growth.
Fifty nine companies have announced either new locations or expansions of existing facilities since 2010. Nelson and his department, as well as the county council, have made extraordinary efforts to help small businesses grow and thrive as well.
Some of the tools used to do so include infrastructure tax credits, special source revenue incentives and the ubiquitous fee in lieu of taxes (FILOT); an unpopular incentive with the more hide bound political factions, who are fond of referring to FILOT as giving the farm away.
Nelson approached that attitude head on, explaining that South Carolina’s ten and a half per cent tax assessment of industrial equipment and technology is the highest rate in the world. “That fact makes competing for investment and good jobs very difficult. FILOT gives us a tool to offset that disadvantage. I can assure you that without that tool, none of the impressive growth Anderson has seen in the last nine years would have occurred.”
Nelson also acknowledged that the unprecedented growth in Anderson county’s economy creates some problems. “Traffic is going to get worse, and it’s bad enough now. The fact is our roads are adequate to the demands. They need more maintenance, but they can handle the projected traffic loads. The problem is, Anderson county folks are used to using the rolling stop technique at stop signs, and that is going to have to end soon. There’s usually somebody else at the stop sign too.”
He also referred to the housing shortage brought on by the surging job market. “I actually live over in Pickens county and my wife and I are looking very hard for a place in Anderson County. A building boom is taking hold, but the supply is not keeping up with the demand right now.
Nelson gave a surprisingly personal motivation for his and the county’s tireless efforts. “I have grandchildren that I love and I want them and their parents to be able to make a decent living close enough to me that I can see them whenever I want to.”