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Thousands of new jobs headed to S.C. counties south of Mecklenburg, officials say

jobs
JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
A crowd of business people and officials gather at the Gateway Conference Center in Richburg, SC, to await Gov. Nikki Haley's announcement of a major business expansion in South Carolina.

Monday figures to be a big day for economic development just south of the state line.

Officials in the South Carolina counties of York and Chester say they plan to make three major jobs announcements Monday, all featuring S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

While no one involved has publicly named the companies behind the new positions, officials say two firms will be making announcements in York and one in Chester.

“It’s a great day to be in York County. It’s going to be a very impressive two announcements,” York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said. “We are talking thousands of jobs.”

The Chester jobs-recruitment project – dubbed “Project Summer” – has perhaps generated the most speculation. It could involve an investment of more than $560 million and employ 1,500 people.

S.C. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, told The Herald newspaper that the company is auto-related.

Tire Review magazine had speculated that it could be Goodyear. The tire maker late last month announced that it plans to spend about $500 million to build a new tire plant to supply its North American and Latin American markets.

But a Goodyear spokesman told The Observer the company is just starting its site selection process and has no knowledge of Project Summer. Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey has said he hasn’t talked to the company.

Tire Review editor Jim Smith said he no longer thinks it’s Goodyear, but noted that a different tire company has expressed “a great deal of interest” in Chester. He declined to name that firm.

“You’ll hear something about that very shortly. Other than that, I’ve been sworn to secrecy,” said Smith, who has spent 30 years in the tire and automotive industries.

Joe Branham, vice chair of Chester County Council, said state officials have kept the identity of the company top secret.

“I know what it is,” he said. “I don’t know who it is. (South Carolina’s) commerce (department) and maybe a few people in economic development know the name, but I don’t know the name.”

Is it automotive-related?

“That’s what some people let out,” he replied. “We’re not at liberty to let it out. It may be or it may not.”

Chester County suffered tremendous employment losses during the downsizing of Springs Industries in the past two decades. The textile manufacturer in the mid-1990s had 15,000-plus workers in the Carolinas, and was a dominant employer in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.

Chester County’s jobless rate surged to above 20 percent by June 2009 and stayed above it until March 2010. It now stands at 6.9 percent. Branham said the county in recent years has been attracting new manufacturing plants, albeit smaller than the one involved in Project Summer.

In York County, speculation has fallen on LPL Financial, a firm that employs about 1,000 in Charlotte and has a couple of offices near Billy Graham Parkway. A real estate source told the Observer the company has been seeking office space in the Charlotte area.

The financial services company, which came to Charlotte about eight years ago by acquiring UVEST Financial Services, has been growing its local operations. In 2012, the company announced plans to add up to 100 technology jobs in Charlotte by the end of 2013.

LPL spokesman Tony Vignieri said the company is slated to make an announcement on Monday, but declined to say more.

Sources have told The Herald that the two York County projects represent an investment of more than $200 million and more than 5,000 jobs.

Mecklenburg and its neighboring S.C. counties have long competed over job-recruitment projects. In December, Mecklenburg lost a closely fought battle for a Chinese yarn factory and 500 jobs when the firm announced it was heading to Lancaster County.

Blackwell, the York County Council chair, said S.C. officials also recognize that their proximity to the Queen City and Charlotte Douglas International Airport helps them attract industry.

“We’ll certainly be great competitors for bringing industry to the area,” he said, “but at the same time we certainly have a lot of respect for Charlotte and what it does for the region.”

Frazier: 704-358-5145; Twitter: @Ericfraz
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