The coronavirus put a halt to "normal" life and had a ripple effect on the manufacturing supply chain, causing Orangeburg County companies and manufacturers to use layoffs and furloughs in an effort to survive the downturn.
Some companies went from three shifts to one shift. Some companies reduced their workforce by almost 50%.
The international travel ban also delayed projects in moving forward.
But industries showed resilience and even went above and beyond to help during the height of the pandemic.
"2020 was a challenging year but a year of some promise overall," Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson said, noting the county saw a record year for construction related to industries.
Some examples of industrial success in 2020 include the current 500,000 square feet under construction in the county.
Industrial product development was also a part of 2020 with the extension of roads at the John. W. Matthews Industrial Park as well as the construction of a industrial concrete pad at the Western Orangeburg County Industrial Park. The pad is large enough to maintain a 75,000-square-foot building.
Another road has been built into the Orangeburg County Industrial Park and water and sewer extensions have been put in place at the Tr-County Global site.
"It has been an exceedingly busy year," Robinson said.
Some companies, such as the Elloree Food Lion distribution center, saw gains.
The county's largest manufacturer, Husquvarna, continued strong and Orangeburg's SI Group saw the sale of ibuprofen remain steady or increase due to the pandemic.
Bimbo Bakeries also had a headcount increase as demand increased for foods prepared at home.
Local industries adjusted to the challenges by ensuring stock levels were adequate and that short-term disruptions were not harmful.
Local manufacturers also stepped up and began making personal protective equipment. Some donated PPEs to local medical providers.
The OCDC became a resource for local manufacturers feeling the economic effects of the coronavirus.
Tourville and Cox
The year also brought with it the passing away of two industrial giants -- Frank P. Tourville and Bill Cox Sr.
Robinson praised the two "stalwarts of industry" as men of character to be emulated.
Tourville, founder of Zeus Industrial Products Inc., died March 16.
Tourville was a well-known and highly regarded visionary in the polymer extrusion industry. Products were used in the medical device, aerospace, automotive, energy and other sectors.
Today, the company employs over 1,800 people worldwide with manufacturing and sales facilities in Aiken, Columbia, Gaston and Orangeburg; Branchburg, New Jersey; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Guangzhou, China; and Letterkenny, Ireland.
Cox built his own wood-preserving business in Orangeburg in 1953. It grew from five employees and a total weekly payroll of $300 to 14 manufacturing facilities and five distribution yards employing some 400 individuals in 10 states.
Cox died Feb. 11, 2021.
As the end of April 2021 neared, Robinson said there are pockets impacted by COVID but the "outlook is positive" as the vaccine rollout continues.
He said companies able to do better during the pandemic were related to food service and durable goods. The automotive and aerospace sectors struggled.
"We are bullish they will come out of this hopefully very soon," Robinson said. "We have to get people flying again."
He said aerospace has seen much success over the years but was hit hard by 2020.
In an effort to honor industries, the county is looking at the possibility of an event around September if the pandemic has lessened.
As part of the annual Industry Appreciation Week, the county has also recognized an individual having contributed to the local community in terms of new job opportunities and capital investment. Due to the coronavirus, all events are on hold.
Manufacturing's big role
Manufacturing and industry have always been a major component of Orangeburg County's economy.
From aerospace to automobiles to lawn mowers to chemicals, Orangeburg County makes things.
The county boasts a diverse industrial landscape of more than 100 firms, with manufacturers employing over 8,200.
About 19% of the county's population works in manufacturing, according to the South Carolina Department of Employment & Workforce Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the third quarter of 2020.
Manufacturing is the largest sector of the county's workforce, with about 5,150 individuals employed in manufacturing out of a county workforce totaling 26,824. The county is among the state leaders in the largest percentage of its workforce in manufacturing.
Despite the coronavirus and unprecedented times, Orangeburg County continues to recognize its manufacturers.
Officials tout the county's pro-business attitude with strong training programs, as well as its location near four interstates and the Port of Charleston.
Company interest in the county has been at a high and the county continues to target industries such as automotive, aerospace, transportation, logistics, recycling, plastics, textiles, agribusiness/timber and energy.
Husqvarna, which employs more than 2,000 people, is the county's largest employer. The seasonal company manufactures riding lawn mowers.
Other large employers, according to the OCDC website, include:
- Food Lion Distribution Center, distribution of groceries, dry and perishable, with 498.
- Zeus Industrial Products Inc., polymer tubing, 450.
- Allied Air Enterprises Inc., residential furnaces and air conditioners, 400.
- SI Group, specialty chemical manufacturing, 322.
From April 2020 to April of this year (the time frame since The Times and Democrat's last industry appreciation publication) Orangeburg County has seen companies announce a total $182.3 million investment and 226 new jobs.
Jobs and capital investment totals are company projections over several years and may not have been fully realized.
Companies that publicly made announcements between April 2020 and April 2021 include:
- An Israeli fish-farming company announced plans in October 2020 to invest more than $28.1 million to establish its flagship U.S. operations in Orangeburg County. Pure Blue Fish’s investment will create 82 new jobs.
Pure Blue Fish grows yellowtail fish using recirculating aquaculture systems with zero water discharge technology, which reduces water costs and pollution.
The company will build a new facility at the John W. Matthews Industrial Park on Five Chop Road near U.S. 176.
The facility will be between 50,000 square feet and 100,000 square feet. It will be located on 30 acres in the park.
The building is expected to be completed by 2022.
Pure Blue Fish’s South Carolina operations will serve as a production and packaging facility for distribution to the restaurant market. The fish is mostly eaten as sushi or sashimi in fine Japanese restaurants, or grilled and served widely in other cuisines. In retail shops and supermarkets, the whole fish is sold as well as fillets.
- Virginia-based Brewer Renewables, a subsidiary of Seahorse Capital, in October 2020 announced it was going to build a new solar farm in Orangeburg on Cannon Bridge Road near Riley Road.
The investment is $85 million.
The solar farm will create temporary jobs during the construction phase but, like most solar farms, no permanent jobs will be created.
It will include a 100-megawatt solar facility with the option for additional energy storage of up to 100 megawatts and 400 megawatt hours, which can provide power to roughly 20,000 South Carolina homes.
The project is expected to be operational in 2023.
- Sigmatex Carbon Textile Solutions in December announced its plans to expand operations in the county. The more than $4.5 million investment will create 50 new jobs.
Sigmatex’s facility at the John W. Matthews Jr. Industrial Park will become the British company’s North American headquarters.
Sigmatex’s expansion will include immediate investment in machinery and equipment – increasing capacity from 750,000 yards per year to 3 million yards per year.
Sigmatex’s Orangeburg facility employs five but the expansion in the short term will increase employment to 50. Over the next five years, employment is expected to grow to over 100 jobs.
The company's products are used in several industries, including the space, military, automotive, aerospace and renewable energy sectors.
- Allied Air Enterprises, Inc., a subsidiary of Lennox International, announced plans in December to expand operations in Orangeburg County.
The $35.7 million investment will create 20 new jobs.
Allied Air’s expansion will include the construction of a 405,000-square-foot warehouse to increase the company’s manufacturing and storage capabilities. The company is located at 355 Millennium Drive in the Orangeburg County/City Industrial Park.
The expansion is expected to be completed by October 2021.
The expansion is the second the company announced in 2020.
In August, Allied Air announced it would expand into the $13 million, 200,000-square-foot speculative building at the OC/CIP.
The building will also be used for warehousing and production capacity. The number of employees did not increase with the project.
- QuikTrip Corp.’s opened its $7 million travel center near the Orangeburg County/City Industrial Park at U.S. Highway 301 and Interstate 26 in January 2021.
The company, commonly known as QT, chose the Orangeburg market as part of a business expansion effort.
The travel center is QuikTrip's new model Generation 3 facility, which includes a QT kitchen area where food such as pizzas, flatbreads and toasted sandwiches can be made. It also offers made-to-order tacos.
The center occupies 6 acres and includes 20 gas pumps able to service 20 vehicles at the same time. The center also has 10 truck bays.
It employs about two dozen.
- Virginia-based INDEVCO North America Inc. announced in March 2021 it would invest $22 million and create 50 new jobs in Orangeburg County.
The company is developing a 100,000-square-foot industrial facility at 715 Prosperity Drive within the Orangeburg County Industrial Park.
The company produces high-performance protective products such as coated and laminated paper, plastic films and packaging.
Its new Orangeburg manufacturing facility will support the petrochemical, lawn and garden, and salt markets.
The 100,000-square-foot, pre-engineered metal building will house manufacturing, storage, office and lab space.
The new facility is expected to be completed by the fall of 2021.
- North Carolina-based industrial hemp company Carolina CannaTech announced in December it has built a 2,400-square-foot cannabidiol facility on a 50-acre parcel of Carolina Fresh Farms' 3,000-acre hemp and sod farm. The farm is located on Savannah Highway south of Neeses.
The company will focus on cannabis oil extraction.
The company grows, harvests and extracts hemp on-site.
Company officials declined to comment on the cost of the investment except to describe it as “significant.”
The farm currently employs three with plans to expand the extraction facility.
The facility uses extraction and evaporating methods and equipment to turn their farm-grown hemp into crude oil and eventually to a distillate, or full-spectrum CBD, which is used in Nature's Highways products. Nature's Highway is the company's own CBD product brand.
The operation includes the entire process: planting, cultivating, harvesting, drying and extracting CBD from the hemp plants.
At the state level, an industry impact awards luncheon and ceremony has typically been held at the end of April in Columbia.
Local industries were recognized at the event.
The Department of Commerce is not hosting an event this year, but is participating in locally hosted events as appropriate.