News that Kent International Inc., a global supplier of bicycles and accessories for major retailers, will put 175 people to work in Clarendon County might sound like a small-bore jobs announcement for those in the state’s largest counties.
But experts say it’s precisely what South Carolina needs for its recovery to spread across an economically diverse landscape — with Greenville, Charleston and Columbia in sharp contrast to the state’s relatively poorer counties, like Clarendon, where the unemployment rate has been near 10 percent or higher since November 2012.
Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo senior economist, said the Clarendon announcement provides affirmation that manufacturers can make a competitive product in South Carolina, particularly with transportation and labor costs increasing overseas.
“South Carolina is an attractive alternative to manufacturing overseas and gives businesses more control over quality issues,” Vitner said.
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State officials continue to cite their efforts to recruit business to the state’s rural areas.
In 2013, the state recruited 3,836 jobs to counties with Tier III or IV designation, comprising about a quarter of jobs being added to the state’s economy through business location or expansion, according to the Governor’s Office.
Kent is building its new manufacturing facility in Clarendon County to supply Walmart with U.S.-made bicycles, company and state officials said last week.
The $4.3 million investment is expected to bring 175 jobs to the area over three to four years.
“We are excited with the challenge of assembling and manufacturing affordable bicycles in the United States. We feel that we have found a great partner in the state of South Carolina with their pro-business policies and an abundant pool of great workers,” said Arnold Kamler, Kent International’s chief executive and chairman.
Proximity to the Port of Charleston was a key consideration since Kent will import most of the parts for its manufacturing facility, Kamler said. In addition, the company in the U.S. each year sells almost 3 million imported bicycles, which are stored in warehouses in Savannah, he said.
Orangeburg was a finalist for the manufacturing facility, Kamler said.
Bruce Yandle, a Clemson University economist, said Kent’s bicycle works “will be a good shot in the arm” for Clarendon. The county is well located for moving goods by highway, port, or by air from Charleston, Yandle said.
“Expectations are rising for a much more robust U.S. economy in 2014 for a number of reasons,” said Sujit CanagaRetna, senior fiscal analyst for the Southern Legislative Conference in Atlanta.
“One of the major drivers has been the resurgence in the U.S. manufacturing sector, and the announcement by Kent International regarding its newest manufacturing facility in Clarendon County is emblematic of this burgeoning sector.”
Part of Walmart’s U.S. manufacturing initiative, American production of Kent’s bicycles will allow the company to deliver them to stores in a 90 percent assembled condition, raising assembly efficiency for in-store personnel, officials said. In addition to Walmart, the company is a major supplier to Toys ‘R’ Us.