News Column

Teamwork helped recruit carbon fiber maker Toray Industries to Spartanburg County

February 22, 2014

By Trevor Anderson, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.

Feb. 22--A brief phone call last year between a state commerce official and a local economic development executive opened the door for Spartanburg County to land South Carolina's largest-ever initial investment in a new production facility.

Tokyo-based carbon fiber maker Toray Industries Inc. announced last week it plans to invest $1 billion to build a manufacturing plant on 400 acres near the intersection of highways 290 and 221 in Moore and create 500 new jobs.

But local leaders said getting the company to finally hone in on Spartanburg after it looked for seven years at other communities across South Carolina and in neighboring states required clever thinking, a shovel-ready site and, above all else, teamwork.

"This is what we do best," said David Britt, county councilman and board member of the Economic Futures Group. "We show a customer that we mean business. And we did. We blew them away. We showed them the best part of Spartanburg."

Officials said Toray became interested in locating a facility in South Carolina after one of its customers, Boeing, started looking at bringing production to Charleston. Britt said Toray initially looked at sites in both Carolinas, and was being aggressively pursued by Decatur, Ala., where it established a large manufacturing facility in 1999.

During the next six years, S.C. Department of Commerce officials convinced the company to stick with South Carolina, he said. The company was first courted by Richland and Orangeburg counties, with Orangeburg the heavy favorite.

"They were looking at sites primarily away from the Upstate," Britt said. "Fortunately, Toray officials kept asking (state commerce officials) if there was anything in the Upstate."

In August, Wayne Fritz, senior project manager for the Department of Commerce, called Carter Smith, executive vice president of the Economic Futures Group.

"(Fritz) at the last minute picked up a cell phone and called Carter," Britt said. "It was a great prospect and a huge opportunity. Carter said I've got the perfect site. Toray executives fell in love with it. We had to put our package together. We were a year or more behind those other communities. Our team went into full action mode."

The site is one of a few large tracts owned by the Spartanburg-based private investment firm Pacolet Milliken Enterprises Inc. along Highway 290 between Reidville Road and Highway 221. The company touted the property's proximity to interstates 85 and 26.

Pacolet Milliken had already invested in making infrastructure improvements on the site in order for it to qualify for the state Department of Commerce's Industrial Site Certification Plan. The improvements required partnership with several local utilities, including Duke Energy, Spartanburg Water, Woodruff Roebuck Water District and Startex, Jackson, Wellford, Duncan Water District.

Britt said one of the proposals made by the county is a water reuse facility. The company will use up to 6 million gallons of water per day in its production. The facility will enable it to recycle its water. It was spearheaded by Rebecca West, chief operating officer for Spartanburg Water, and CEO Sue Schneider, as well as other water officials.

As of Friday, the property was still "under contract," but project officials expect Toray to close in the coming weeks.

Allison Skipper, spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce, confirmed Tuesday the state had approved $10 million in grants for the project, including $7 million in closing funds for acquiring the land and $3 million for real property improvements. Skipper said the company also will receive job development credits once it reaches its hiring and investment targets.

County Council hasn't yet voted on incentives for the company, but is expected to vote on those proposals in the next few months.

Details about the size and scope of the facility have not been disclosed. Officials expect it will be "sizeable" and highly advanced. Details about jobs, pay and hours have not yet been revealed.

Gov. Nikki Haley announced the company's decision Tuesday while speaking to a group of Rotarians at the Piedmont Club. Local leaders said they were informed of Haley's plan to make the announcement just a few hours before it was made. County leaders were in attendance, but state commerce and Toray officials were not.

The state Department of Commerce and Toray sent out written statements just after the announcement. Russ Weber, chairman of the Economic Futures Group, sent out a letter later in the day.

"The anticipated $1 billion investment and creation of 500 jobs is the result of a very long and confidential recruitment of Toray Industries," Weber said in the letter. "By bringing the production of carbon fiber to Spartanburg County, we have now secured our place as a global leader in the manufacturing of advanced composite materials, just as BMW locating in Spartanburg County over 20 years ago set the pace for us being a world-class leader in the automotive sector."

Britt said he believes Toray's operation will continue to grow beyond the company's announced commitment.

He said the company is looking at tapping into other opportunities in the Upstate in the automotive and possibly the utility sectors. Company officials toured BMW Manufacturing Co. when they visited Spartanburg and gave the impression that they wanted to be a part of the hub of the state's manufacturing industry, Britt said.

"They like the (local) talent," he said. "They liked the feel of (Spartanburg)."

Toray Group said it is an integrated chemical industry group developing its business in 23 countries and regions worldwide. The company said it fuses nanotechnology into its operations, using organic synthetic chemistry, polymer chemistry and biotechnology as its core technologies. It also promotes the global development of IT-related products, carbon fiber composite materials, pharmaceuticals and medical products, environment and engineering, including water treatment and progress in other pivotal business fields.

"Spartanburg County is the manufacturing hub of the Upstate," Britt said. "Our people help build the best cars in the world and soon they will build the best carbon fiber in the world. ...We are passionate about showing companies that we don't just want them. We want them to succeed."

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(c)2014 Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.)

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Source: Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC)


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