“You could tell she was stressed,” he said. “(She said:)‘My son needs a job. He’s an electrician. Why aren’t you creating jobs?’”
Nelson, the director of Economic Development for Anderson County, then told her about First Quality, a New York-based company that is investing about $1 billion in Anderson County. Over the next several years, the tissue and towel manufacturer plans to add about 1,000 people at its location in near the Starr/Iva communities.
Nelson said that at first, he thought the woman was joking with him.
“A little something in her voice told me she was not kidding,” Nelson recounts, as he talks to a group of about 30 business people during a Powdersville Business Luncheon. “I said: ‘Well, ma’am, we announced 1,000 jobs with First Quality Tissue in Anderson.”
Nelson said he’s sometimes amazed at how people haven’t heard about manufacturers such as First Quality coming to Anderson County.
There have also been other companies that have announced that they were moving to the Upstate in the past several months.
“There are a lot of things going on,” he said.
Heritage Propane Express, a provider of propane grill cylinders, plans to establish a new propane grill cylinder exchange processing and delivery facility in the Hurricane Creek Industrial Park and add 24 jobs. Unitex USA plans to invest $4 million along I-85 and add 40 jobs in the next five years.
Anderson County is still far from out of the economic tunnel — the unemployment rate is still at 10.8 percent, and about 9,000 people are looking for work. In 2008, the unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, and less than 5,000 people were unemployed.
“There’s a lot of people out of work,” Nelson said. “And we’re doing all we can do to create jobs.”
Nelson said more students need to be encouraged to get a technical college training, and not necessarily a four-year education.
“Our whole education system in South Carolina is aimed at, more or less, sending kids down a general college ed track,” he said. But in 1950, about 20 percent of the jobs required a college education, while 79 percent required few skills, and 1 percent required technical education.
In 2010, about 20 percent require a college education, while almost 75 percent of jobs require technical skills and training.
“Even if you work at McDonald’s, you have to know how to work a keyboard,” he said.
Career and technology centers and colleges, such as Tri-County Tech, play a pivotal role in attracting businesses, Nelson said.
Nelson said the county has been criticized for some of the incentives larger companies have received. Some argue that giving the companies incentives or fee-in-lieu agreements place a higher burden on small businesses or homeowners.
“They complain about that being public money,” Nelson said. “We incentivize First Quality to come here. And part of that incentive was to offer up to $7.5 million off their own tax money — not yours; it’s their tax money — to come here and to use that money to build water lines.”
Nelson said that First Quality is still paying for it.
“So now a $9 million water line is being constructed, and they’re paying for it,” he said. “They’re just not going to pay any taxes in that amount for the next 10 years, or whatever it turns out to be.”
Anderson County has had more business activity than any other county in the Upstate in the past six month, according to Nelson.
Unemployment insurance premiums
Several businesses have complained in recent years that the state unemployment insurance premiums are too high, and some have even threatened to leave South Carolina.
Businesses that had the most unemployment claims in recent years pay the biggest burden — sometimes more than $1,000 a year per employee. Businesses that haven’t had unemployment claims may pay 1 percent as much.
Goodwill Industries of Upstate/Midlands SC Vice President of Human Resources Ronnie Brown said he knows of several businesses that are unhappy about the higher premiums.
“I know there’s one company that’s already closed its warehouse as a direct result of this,” Brown said. “Other companies are cutting back on their hiring plans.”
Nelson said he realizes that it is a “huge problem,” but he has talked to some big companies that are upset about it.
“There are some big employers, some big capital investment companies, in this state, who are steaming,” he said.