Motorists along U.S. Highway 123 near Liberty may not be aware of the construction activity going on at the Pickens County Commerce Park. But just off the Cartee Road exit you will find a “bulldozer and construction crane bonanza,” according to Ray Farley, executive director of Alliance Pickens, who credits a workforce development initiative with the school district for playing a major role in attracting new manufacturers.
Several projects are underway at the commerce park, most of which are scheduled for completion over the next few months. One of those projects is the construction of the North American headquarters for era-contact GmbH, a German manufacturer of railroad connection systems. Work on that building is expected to be finished in May.
“I had been working with the consultant for several months,” Farley said of era-contact GmbH. “The ownership was in town and wanted to come over for 20 or 30 minutes for a visit.
“That half-hour visit turned into a 14-hour work day for us because they were sold on us,” he said. It was because of our workforce development, because of what our young people are doing.”
The workforce development Farley refers to features the Scholars Technician Initiative. The Alliance Pickens website describes a Scholar Technician as a “student who excels in the classroom Monday through Friday, but also through extracurricular activities and through course of study, learns and develops technical skills required in today's advanced manufacturing environment.” It is an initiative for reaching students early and educating and training them in the skills needed in the workforce, should they choose not to pursue higher education.
“We develop the skills in our young folk. As we like to say, we are increasing the volume and velocity of young technical talent coming into our workforce here,” Farley said.
It is the workforce development effort with the School District of Pickens County that Farley said was also a contributing factor in JR Automation Technologies choosing Pickens County. The manufacturer designs and builds custom automated equipment and provides services in the automotive, aerospace, medical device, pharmaceutical, food processing and construction industries. It announced in August 2016 it was investing $3.4 million and adding 56 jobs with the construction of a 50,000-square-foot facility at the commerce park. Construction is expected to be complete in late April.
“The key reason that we’re winning these projects is our workforce development effort in Pickens County,” Farley said. “That is how this is supposed to work, Here in our community, Pickens County, we have an ‘attached to the hip’ relationship with the School District of Pickens County.”
Danny Merck, superintendent of the School District of Pickens County, said, “we’re always focusing on college and career readiness, and have one of the best career centers around.”
The Pickens County Career and Technology Center offers skill training in 20 different programs for students at the county’s four high schools – Daniel High School, Easley High School, Liberty High School and Pickens High School.
According to a statement from the School District of Pickens County spokesperson John Eby, “our partnership with the business community is extremely important. It is about building success beyond the classroom and placing our students in gainful employment after graduation. We rely on each other. We want there to be jobs in Pickens County.”
Other construction projects at the commerce park include an expansion at Reliable Automatic Sprinkler, which is adding 150,000 square feet of space to its 300,000-square-foot facility. The expansion also includes a 500-car parking lot and a pad for another 100,000-square-foot building. Farley said these projects will be completed in phases with Phase I expected to be finished later this year.
Additional work at the commerce park includes three site preparation projects, all of which are expected to be finished in June. No companies have committed yet to these sites, Farley said.