August 22, 2013

Electronics firm brings 500 jobs to Fairfield Co.

Element Electronics Thursday said it would relocate operations that formerly were in China to a new manufacturing plant in Fairfield County for flat-screen televisions.

Element Electronics Thursday said it would open a manufacturing plant in Fairfield County for flat-screen televisions and create 500 jobs.

The company is relocating operations that formerly were in China, officials said – extending a big public push it unveiled last year to return manufacturing to the U.S.

It was welcome news in Fairfield County, which has struggled along with South Carolina’s other rural areas to recover from the worst recession in a lifetime. Around 100 people packed the Fairfield County Council chambers for the announcement.

The $7.5 million investment includes a 315,000-square-feet facility in Winnsboro on the U.S. 321 North Bypass, the vacant Perry Ellis building, which should open by the end of the year, officials said. The Perry Ellis building has been vacant since 2008, officials said.

“Today’s announcement is another indication that we are doing the right things to attract job-creating investments here in South Carolina,” said Gov. Nikki Haley, who took part with company officials to make the announcement in a live webcast beamed back to Winnsboro from Orlando.

Haley was in Florida speaking at a Wal-Mart manufacturing summit, where the retailer was meeting with 1,500 suppliers, state representatives and other retailers to discuss ways to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.

Element Electronics, which supplies TVs to Wal-Mart and other retailers, made a splash last year when it announced plans to begin assembling large, flat-screen televisions in the United States again, after most U.S. manufacturers had either gone out of business or moved production plants overseas during the past two decades.

Since January 2011, South Carolina has recruited more than $9 billion in capital investment and more than 26,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector.

The Element Electronics television assembly jobs pay $12.50 per hour to start, officials said. The company plans to hire 250 workers in the first year and then continue hiring in 25-person shifts after that as training is completed.

“‘Made in the USA’ today is as hot as it has ever been globally,” said Mike Briggs, of the Central SC Alliance, a regional economic development organization that includes 10 counties and the City of Columbia. “So, we’re blessed in that regard.”

“We are working with companies from all over the world who want to come here to do business: either come here and open business establishments for the first time, invest capital dollars and create jobs, or to bring jobs that have been outside the United States back into the United States,” Briggs said. “Those forces are there.”

The television manufacturing plant should have a big impact on spinoff businesses in the county and region, Briggs said, as well as bolster existing businesses in the area.

The recession had the hardest impact on the state’s rural areas. Fairfield County’s unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in July, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. That was an improvement over 10.1 percent rate in June and the 12 percent rate in July 2012. The improvement likely was because of hiring at the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant, where two new reactors are under construction by S.C. Electric & Gas and state-owned utility Santee Cooper. Hiring recently ramped up again after some parts delays earlier this year, officials said recently.

Eleanor Thomas Parrish, a Lake Wateree resident, was among the crowd of local residents who turned out to hear the news Thursday.

“I think it’s been tough for people in this area, and just like the state, we’ve got to focus on jobs – for everyone,” said Parrish, who grew up nearby in Ridgeway, about 10 miles east of Winnsboro. “They’ve got the nuclear plant, but then, they lost Mack Truck, so this is really exciting for people here in Fairfield County.”

Element Electronics will begin hiring for new positions this fall, officials said. Anyone interested in jobs should visit at that time.

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