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Oconee County toasts successes, expects strong 2019

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This year Oconee County has had $69 million in capital investment that created 123 jobs. And over the last six years the county has been the recipient of $501.3 million in investments from 37 projects that created 1,591 jobs.

These are the numbers shared by the Oconee Economic Alliance during the group’s annual meeting, when economic developers, investors, community members and educators came together to get an update on the county’s efforts to recruit and retain industry, support education and strengthen the workforce.

“The Oconee Economic Alliance really is a nontraditional, comprehensive economic development team,” said Janet Hartman, alliance director. “We’re not just your traditional retention and recruitment of industry kind of office. We include all kind of entities and partnerships under our umbrella.”

One of the nontraditional highlights of 2018 for Oconee County is the craft beer market, Hartman said. Two craft beer operations started in the county this year — Jocassee Valley Bewing Co. in Salem and Keowee Brewing Co. in Seneca.

“One of our more traditional wins this year was JTEKT Koyo, who’s been a long-time industry here in Oconee County. They invested $19.4 million, with an additional 56 jobs in West Union,” Hartman said. “And RBC Aerostructures in Westminster invested $3.8 million and created 22 jobs in 2018.

“I think we touched on every area of the county with our announcements this year,” she added.

Hartman said it’s great to see the economic development wins in the county, but with that comes the need for a skilled workforce. Oconee County’s unemployment rate is at the lowest it has been in 20 years, she said, at 3.2%.

“That can be a positive number unless you’re looking for employees,” she said. “We are working really hard in trying to find additional avenues for those looking to get into the workforce.”

One way the county can address the workforce issue is with Tri-County Technical College, which this year opened a campus in the Oconee Industry and Technology Park.

“This is a huge positive as far as having them inside the industrial park. Students can be there, walk next door and maybe have an internship at an industry.

“When we bring in a prospective client, that is a huge asset when they know that kind of partnership is happening. Not only do we talk about it, they can see it,” she said.

Construction is underway for the new Hamilton Career Center, also at the industrial park.

Hartman said the Oconee NOW program fits into the workforce development plan. NOW stands for Nurturing Oconee Workforce. It was launched in the fall of 2016. Participants attend monthly off-campus meetings that address advanced employment skills. They are also provided opportunities for industry exposure and networking, sometimes one-on-one, with Oconee County’s top manufacturing employers.

“In May we graduated that first class of 18 students. A number of those students have local industrial jobs,” she said.

While she didn’t name specific plans or projects, Hartman does anticipate 2019 being a successful year.

“It’s important to have sites, to have buildings and a workforce, and to be ready,” she said. “In addition, you have to provide a quality of life for employees. We have the right momentum going with our people and natural resources. Things look great for 2019.”

Reach Teresa Cutlip at 864-720-1223.

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