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Officials hope recent trip to China means more jobs for Lancaster County

By Chris Sardelli

Despite the exhausting 26-hour journey to China he embarked upon earlier this month, Larry McCullough was upbeat about the positive impact the trip could make on Lancaster County’s long-term economy. 

As Lancaster County Council chairman, McCullough joined a large delegation of local and state officials who visited China and Taiwan as part of an economic development recruitment trip between April 4 and 13. Also on board for the trip were fellow council member Brian Carnes, as well as Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. President Keith Tunnell.

“I think it was a very successful trip. Keith assembled a strong team,” McCullough said.

The trip included a visit to Keer Group, a Chinese cotton yarn manufacturer, which is in the midst of building a manufacturing facility in Indian Land, as well as visits to several prospective companies who have expressed interest in moving their facilities to the county. 

Stops along the way included Shanghai, which is China’s largest city, followed by Hangzhou in eastern China, where Keer’s headquarters is located. The group also met with companies in Tianjin, a city in northern China, and in Taipei, located in Taiwan.

McCullough said the trip afforded local representatives a chance to tour Keer’s headquarters.

“The leadership there was very good. I was very impressed with (Keer’s) plant, their cleanliness, their efficiency, their grounds. Based on what I saw, it will be a very nice campus (in Indian Land),” he said. “They were very pleased we were there. We were treated very nicely in terms of a business perspective.”

He also mentioned two prospective companies they met with, including a textile corporation and a technology company.

“(Keer) and the other groups we met with are very interested in becoming a part of the long-term community,” he said. “In my opinion, as companies come in, many folks jump into South Carolina because of lower taxes and various other reasons. But the ones who hit the sweet spot are the ones who pay high wages, get involved in the community and stay for the long-term.”

With most of the prospective companies already planning to send delegations of their own to Lancaster County, McCullough believes that could signal big things for the county’s workforce.

“In talking about the long-term quality, it’s very, very good. Each of them are very environmentally knowledgeable and environmentally friendly,” he said. “By going, not only did we not give them reasons not to come, but we gave them increased reasons to come here.”

Carnes was also impressed with the companies they visited during the trip.

“We had very good discussions with the companies we met with. The first visit was with Keer and we had an opportunity to tour their facility. It’s quite an impressive facility, maybe six different buildings on that particular campus, with a lake and beautiful landscaping,” he said.

The trip also helped lay a lasting foundation with the Chinese companies, Carnes said.

“The Chinese like doing business with people they know and they like to impress people they are doing business with. If they know you’ve been to one facility, it increases the levels of what they’ll do because they want to leave a lasting impression,” he said.

Carnes was excited to learn the companies have plans to visit the county later this year.

“Both have already visited once and are planning to come again and meet with economic development folks in either the late summer or early fall,” he said.

He believes it could eventually mean additional investment in the county.

“I’m not sure if these would be a Keer level of investment, but it would be an additional investment and the jobs are on the higher end of the wage scale,” Carnes said.

Trip exceeds expectations

For Tunnell, the trip couldn’t have gone any better.

“It exceeded my expectations. We had four groups we went to see. We’re pretty close to getting a commitment on two of the groups we visited and a third will visit later this year. Our history of textiles and success in that industry will bode well for us. We’re eager to get a second big foreign industry investment here,” Tunnell said.

He said the trip was an important step in creating a foothold for foreign companies to invest money and create jobs in Lancaster County.

“There are at least four other foreign companies looking at the Carolinas. I think the opportunity is there to bring more than one textile project back to this community,” he said. “I met this week with a marketing firm to get a marketing plan to call us a textile technology corridor, which could help.”

Tunnell said the recruitment trip, in both size of representatives and number of visits, was a first for the county.

“The chairman of one company in Taiwan took me aside the second to last night and told me how impressed he was our top leadership would travel all the way to China. The S.C. Department of Commerce representative later said this is the first time an economic development team has come to recruit like this,” he said. “We met with four different projects and it went extremely well. I’m very bullish on our chances to land all of those projects.”

If all goes well, Tunnell predicts seeing the addition of hundreds of jobs for county residents.

“If all four came, we’re looking at another 600-plus jobs and between $100 and $150 million worth of development,” he said.

As part of his long-term plan, Tunnell also intends to market several locations throughout Lancaster County, including sites within the Heath Springs Industrial Park, former Springs sites in Kershaw and the under-development Air-Rail Industrial Park in Lancaster.

“We want to promote all these areas as potential locations,” he said. “We want to bring textiles back to Kershaw, Heath Springs and Lancaster. Not sure we can, but we’re sure going to try.”

To do that, Tunnell is focused on two issues – spec buildings and workforce training.

“Part of the equation is these companies want the product to be ready, and the product means available buildings. Not all of them will be like Keer and build their own building and take a year and a half to do it, so we need to build spec buildings,” he said. “It’s all about having a trained workforce too. We have to stay on top of that and retrain folks.”

Tunnell expects to return to China at least two to three more times within the next two years.

 

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416