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Oconee County reports record 2016, expects development, hiring in 2017

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Richard Blackwell is not in the practice of catching his breath.

Blackwell, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance said the county is coming off a record year in terms of development and he said more is coming in 2017.

Baxter Enterprises and Hi-Tech Mold & Engineering Inc., BMW suppliers, are expected to operational by the second quarter. Grading is expected to begin on the Hartwell Village development near Clemson and activity also is expected in the county’s industrial parks.

Richard Blackwell, executive director of the Oconee Economic Alliance, said Baxter/Hi-Tech should start hiring in the second quarter. Located in a new 87,000-square-foot facility in the Oconee Industry and Technology Park, the development was big news for the county, he said.

“The new industry was significant, at least in our eyes, because it was our first BMW supplier. You know BMW has been operational since 1992 in the Upstate,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said development of a Tri County Technical College campus is expected to move forward this year in the Oconee Industry and Technology Park. Late last year he said county council issued approval to move forward with the project, which involves $4 million to help grade the property. He said construction could start in April, depending on the weather.

In addition to the Tri-County campus, the Hamilton Career Center will locate in the industrial park, in 2019 or 2020, Blackwell said.

“This new campus that will have a manufacturing focus. This is different and unique for a community to have a workforce development campus inside an industrial park,” Blackwell said.

Roadwork is expected in the Seneca Rail Park, located off Wells Highway. A new entrance road will be built to “open up and provide access into that industrial park,” Blackwell said. “And we do have plans for a spec building this year, I just don’t know where yet.”

Work also is expected at the site of Hartwell Village, a 300,000 to 350,000-square-foot commercial development along U.S. Highway 123 and S.C. Highway 93 at the county line between Oconee and Pickens counties. In addition to preparing the land for the development, new traffic lights will be installed on both highways, according to Blackwell. He said some of the shops should be open by the end of this year.

The projects for 2017 come on the heels of a record 2016 for the county, which saw $89.9 million of new capital investment that created 113 jobs. The largest announcement was Baxter/Hi-Tech and the largest expansion last year was BASF, which “did a $60 million expansion,” Blackwell said.

It was a very good year – our best year ever,” he said.

The Oconee Economic Alliance commissioned Texas-based Impact DataSource to create a report showing its economic impact. Since 2012, the alliance has helped bring in $279 million in capital investment and 1,100 new jobs to Oconee County.

Since 2012 the alliance has brought in 25 economic development projects, 19 of which are located in unincorporated areas of Oconee County, five in Seneca and one in West Union.

“Since the end of the national recession in 2009, employment growth in Oconee County has exceeded employment growth in the Greenville MSA and the state,” Blackwell said.

Also, according to the report, the 25 projects since 2012 have:

  • generated nearly $73 million in construction spending,
  • yielded 769 construction jobs tied to those projects with $33.4 million in wages, and
  • created an additional 483 jobs.

Blackwell said that from 2012 to 2016, the Oconee Economic Alliance funding totaled $2.7 million. Blackwell said for every $1 of investment, the alliance generates $1,722 in economic output; $181 in additional worker earnings; $4.62 in additional net benefits for the county, and $13.66 in net benefits for all local taxing districts.

“It is not just a news story or a ribbon cutting when it comes to these projects,” Blackwell said. “Think about how those 1,100 jobs changed family trees for generations. Think about what $45 million in new wages has done to create that economic ripple effect.”

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 720-1223.

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