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Caterpillar drawing suppliers to region

By Chuck Crumbo
Published April 17, 2013

Two Illinois companies’ plans to locate manufacturing facilities in Anderson County offer the first signs of how South Carolina could benefit from having a Caterpillar plant just across the border in Georgia.

On April 8, officials gathered at the Anderson Civic Center to welcome McLaughlin Body Co., a family owned company that plans to invest $22 million and create 250 jobs over the next five years.

Three days later, SMF Inc., a metal fabrication company headquartered in Minonk, Ill., announced it will invest $5.8 million and create 146 jobs over five years.

Based in Moline, Ill., McLaughlin said it’s locating in Anderson to be near Caterpillar’s new 850,000-square-foot facility in Athens, Ga., which is fewer than 70 miles away.

“The search for a new location was extensive, and we felt South Carolina and Anderson County was the best choice for us,” said John Mann, president of McLaughlin. “Our new location provides our company an excellent opportunity for business development in this region of the country.”

Anderson’s strengths include a “highly motivated, available workforce, a good physical location to serve customers, especially customers in the Southeast who desired a world-class metal fabrication company like ourselves,” said Mann, whose company is building its first plant outside of Illinois. “At the same time, we had to find well-situated supply chain companies with advantageous logistics and infrastructure.”

SMF Inc., which provides metal fabrication services, including torch and laser cutting, sawing, forming, machining, welding, painting and assembly, expects to begin operations in early July.

“Our company continues to expand and we look forward to beginning our operations at our new site in Anderson County,” SMF president Brian Brown said. “South Carolina provides an excellent location for us, a great business environment and the workforce talent we need.”

When it announced plans to build in Georgia, Caterpillar said it was moving production from one of its two plants in Japan back to the U.S. The Peoria, Ill.-based company added that the Athens site allowed it to use either the Port of Savannah or Port of Charleston to ship products to overseas markets.

The Caterpillar facility — expected to employ about 1,400 — should be a boon to local and regional economies, said Sharon Younger, president of Younger Associates, a market research and economic development firm headquartered in Jackson, Tenn.

“Based on the production capacity of the new plant, I estimate the total economic impact to reach $2.4 billion per year as key suppliers locate in the region and the regional supply chain matures,” Younger said.

By comparison, the annual economic impact of BMW, which has a manufacturing plant in Spartanburg County, totals more than $8.8 billion a year in South Carolina, according to a 2008 study by the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. BMW employs about 7,000 at its S.C. plant.

Caterpillar has seven manufacturing and service locations in South Carolina.

Founded in 1902, McLaughlin Body Co. manufactures operator protection systems, including cab enclosures and metal components for construction, military, agriculture and other heavy-duty vehicles.

During World War I, the company produced armored vehicles for the French army. In World War II, it produced the crew cab for U.S. Army half-tracks.

Family-owned, McLaughin has annual sales of about $90 million and 300 employees, according to InsideView, which provides customer intelligence and data.

McLaughlin expects to have its Anderson facility fully operational in the first quarter of 2014.

Founded in 1972, SMF serves the construction, power generation, agriculture and mining industries. The company, which has a 140,000-square-foot facility in Illinois, is ranked by Dunn & Bradstreet in the top 1% of machine shops nationwide.

Privately held, SMF has about 250 employees,

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-401-1094, ext. 204.

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