Workforce development initiative key to Pickens County success

Workforce development initiative key to Pickens County success
Posted on 01/18/2016
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Ray Farley — executive director of Alliance Pickens, the economic development group in the county — anticipates an active economic development period once things fall into place at the Pickens County Commerce Park.

Now home to manufacturers such as St. Jude Medical, Adidas-TaylorMade, KeyMark Inc., Tri-Tech USA and Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co. Inc., the Pickens County Commerce Park is a 310-acre industrial park at U.S. Route 123 and Cartee Road. Farley said additional manufacturers are likely to follow once available sites at the park are padded and build ready.

“I’m really excited about the fact that we are getting very close to getting back into product development, meaning pad-ready sites with all of the necessary infrastructure,” Farley said.

Farley said utilities are already available at the commerce park. “We just need to flatten the sites and make them competitive.”

The first two companies in the park were Reliable Automatic Sprinklers Co. Inc. and KeyMark Inc. Reliable was recruited from New York to locate its world manufacturing headquarters in Pickens County. Keymark is a software development company. St. Jude Medical set up its capacitor operations at the commerce park, followed by its second facility that makes microhybrid electronic circuitry.

During the recession Tri-Tech USA came to Pickens County from Burlington, Vt., Farley said. Tri-Tech USA is a military equipment supplier to the U.S. government. The company also does work for the aerospace and auto industries. Adidas, which makes golf balls under the TaylorMade brand, was the last entrant to the park.

According to Farley, the county’s workforce development agenda has directly led to getting manufacturing in the county.

“Around 2009 we were hearing way too often from area industry that they couldn’t find enough qualified or skilled workers. Frankly I got tired of hearing it. Pickens County is a small community, and I think we can fix this.”

The workforce development efforts focused on reaching students in elementary and middle schools, encouraging them to engage in technical endeavors and be more critical and analytical in their thinking.

“In order to really affect that, we needed for the adults who are responsible for the children — the moms, dads, teachers, guidance counselors and principals — to be aware of the career potential that is available to the children,” Farley said. “So we embarked on a communication campaign with the community six years ago. Once the enlightenment set in, folks understood that there are significant opportunities out there for young people and that the marketplace is rewarding skills now, not necessarily rewarding the four-year degree.”

Farley said industries are responding to the workforce development efforts in Pickens County, citing JR Automation Technologies LLC as an example. JR Automation makes equipment for the automotive, pharmaceutical and food industries.

“I attribute our children as the primary reason that we got JR Automation in Pickens in 2011,” he said. “At that time we were publicizing each time a Pickens County child had a significant technical accomplishment. And, around that time, a Pickens County fifth-grade class won the International Jet Toy championship with the Society of Automotive Engineers in Detroit.”

According to Farley, JR Automation “saw we were training our children in the very endeavors that they make their living on, so they called us, and after couple months recruiting effort they said ‘We’re coming. We want to tap into that skill base you have.’”

Manufacturers aren’t the only ones taking notice of the workforce development efforts in Pickens County. About two and a half years ago, Farley got a call from author Nicholas Wyman, who was writing a book about bridging the skills gap in the U.S.

“He had heard about what we are doing and wanted to come and learn more,” Farley said. “He came and spent a day or two in the community with educators and private-sector industry folks.”

The book, Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need, includes the workforce development initiative in Pickens County and mentions it as a standard as what works.

“It’s validation of the work that the community has been putting into the endeavor,” Farley said.

Teresa C. Hopkins can be reached at 864-235-5677, ext. 103, or @SCBizTeresa on Twitter.

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