When Singapore-based Giti Tire agreed in the summer of 2014 to build a 1,700-employee plant in Chester County, S.C., good news had been a long time coming.
The area, just 40 minutes south of Charlotte, N.C., was still reeling from the loss of textile factories and other businesses. At points in 2008 and 2009, the county struggled with an unemployment rate around 21 percent. And though conditions were improving by 2014, hope for attracting a large manufacturer had largely faded.
Then Giti walked in, the bright spot everyone had waited for. Now, with construction underway in Richburg and the plant opening expected later in 2016, optimism runs high.
Working together for growth
The Giti deal was the culmination of the hard work of many, including local and state officials, economic developers – and Duke Energy. Behind the scenes, the power giant collaborated to court the company.
“The work we did on this goes way back as far as helping to make the plant site marketable in 2005 and 2006,” said Sandy Martin, a Duke Energy senior economic development manager. “Giti came in for multiple visits over several months, and we discussed how to get power to the site. Duke’s aviation team provided aerial tours for Giti’s executives, and we engaged our real estate and project management groups for right-of-way and line-extension work.”
Economic development is a team sport. It takes a lot of parties to close a deal. Historically, we’ve tended to step back and allow others to take credit. Over the past 10 years, we’ve gotten more aggressive by adding site readiness and business recruitment efforts.
Raising group's profile
In the past, Duke’s economic development arm has flown under the radar, rarely calling attention to itself, said Stu Heishman, who leads a team of 27 economic development experts at the company. But fierce competition for jobs coaxed the company out of the background and into a higher profile.
“Economic development is a team sport,” Heishman said. “It takes a lot of parties to close a deal. Historically, we’ve tended to step back and allow others to take credit. Over the past 10 years, we’ve gotten more aggressive by adding site readiness (see sidebar) and business recruitment efforts.”
So why does Duke Energy have an economic development arm? Why would the power company invest so heavily in attracting jobs and new industries?
Industrial growth fuels electricity sales, Heishman says.
When a manufacturer comes to town, it’s good for the residents and Duke Energy, he explained.
But attracting those businesses is the trick.
Information, expertise can make a difference
For small towns with few or constrained resources, Duke’s assistance can make all the difference.
In Giti’s case, Duke’s economic development team helped Chester County officials assess and market the farmland that eventually became the Giti property. When interest was shown in the land, Duke set up and attended meetings with Giti, providing electrical statistics and reports. Grants awarded through Duke Energy funded testing and enhancements to the property, enabling Giti to develop the land and move forward.
- In Florida, Duke and its predecessor companies have helped attract more than 230 companies, bringing more than 33,300 jobs and more than $2.8 billion in capital investment. Recently, Coreslab Structures, which makes precast and pre-stressed concrete products, announced plans to build a facility on a Lake County site that went through Duke’s Site Readiness program. It provides funding and expertise to help communities identify, assess, improve and increase awareness of industrial sites and buildings.
- Since 1988, Duke has invested more than $50 million in economic development in Indiana, helping bring more than 121,000 new jobs and over $20 billion in new capital investment.
- Over the past five years in Ohio and Kentucky, the Duke economic development team has helped attract $3.1 billion in capital investments and more than 16,000 new jobs.
“It’s been a true partnership,” Chester County economic development director Karlisa Parker said of Duke’s economic development team. “When they come in, they know their stuff. They don’t commit to things they can’t commit to. It just speaks to their professionalism.”
The Giti plant is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of this year, but it’s already making a big difference even before the first tire rolls off the assembly line. Parker can see it in the attitudes of her friends, family members and neighbors.
“Now, people don’t come up to me and say, ‘We’ll never be, we’ll never have and we’ll never get,’” Parker said. “You can see the change in people’s faces. The apathy is gone. There’s just a different mood in this county.”
She added: “They thought we were never going to land anything. But then it happened, and it changed our world.”