Some of the titans of manufacturing in South Carolina and experts from across the Southeast gather in Greenville this week for a two-day conference and expo where key aspects of that business sector will be examined.
Keynote speakers including some of the leading manufacturers in the state are scheduled to speak, including Michelin North America president and CEO Pete Selleck and Boeing chief legal counsel Mark C. Fava.
Selleck captured state lawmakers’ attention earlier this year when, while in the capital city, he described South Carolina’s roads as “a disgrace” and warned that future manufacturing expansions in the Palmetto State could be in jeopardy unless lawmakers addressed the issue.
Michelin, a top international tire maker in the leading U.S. tire-making state, is a $10.6 billion-a-year company that operates in six states. It employs more than 8,500 workers in South Carolina, more than four times more than anywhere else, according to the company’s website.
Also, South Carolina has been the top tire manufacturer in the United States for the past three years, according to the state’s Commerce Department.
Boeing is transforming the state’s aerospace and aviation industries by producing its 787 Dreamliner passenger planes at a new plant in North Charleston, where it has invested $2 billion and hired 7,500 employees, who are working off a jetliner backlog order of more than 1,000 planes.
The company, however, is fighting off a highly public, neophyte unionization effort of its machinist workers that, if successful, might have a major impact on the company’s future operations in the Palmetto State, some labor experts say.
The Greenville conference also will feature keynote addresses by Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt and Greenville Technical College president Keith Miller. The meeting has been sold out for weeks, organizers said.
Manufacturing in South Carolina, once almost the exclusive domain of textile operations, has itself been transformed in the past 20 years as the state has developed a surging automotive sector led by Upstate international carmaker BMW, the leading automobile exporter in the United States through the Port of Charleston.
Manufacturing accounted for about 10 percent of the state’s workforce in 2011, and more than 16 percent of South Carolina’s gross domestic product, according to the state Commerce department. Manufacturing is a key sector of the state’s economy, Hitt said, and anytime the state can bring manufacturing entities together in one place, it bodes well.
The Greenville conference will offer eight panel discussions, a manufacturing suppliers exposition, a community job fair and a career fair for high school students.
Among the panel discussions is one that explores South Carolina’s continuing need for a skilled workforce, which experts say is necessary to attract manufacturers and prepared them to succeed. One panel, “Creating a Skilled Workforce,” is slated to discuss the skill gaps and some of the workforce development issues manufacturers encounter in the state.
Workforce development panelists expected to speak at the conference include South Carolina Technical College System president Jimmie Williamson, Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and Employment and Workforce executive director Cheryl Stanton.
“Every time I hear a new (jobs) announcement, I cheer,” Williamson said. “Then I realize we must provide the workers.” South Carolina’s ReadySC program has been successful in putting workers in initial stages of readiness required to attract companies to the state and get them up and running, he said.
ReadySC is part of the technical college system and is backed by longer-term programs designed to help workers in the state achieve associate and bachelor’s degrees, Williamson said. South Carolina also has a highly-touted apprenticeship program, which puts workers in direct experience with needed job skills and training.
Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398
If You Go
What: 2015 South Carolina Manufacturing Conference and Expo
Where: TD Convention Center, 1 Exposition Drive, Greenville, Exhibit Hall 1
When: Tuesday and Wednesday
From more information: (http://scmanufacturingconference.com)