Upstate firms NuVox, Hartness sold

Two Upstate companies that together employ more than 1,000 in Greenville - NuVox Inc. and Hartness International Inc. - have been sold or are scheduled to be sold to publicly traded firms with out-of-state headquarters.

NuVox, a telecommunications company launched in Greenville 12 years ago as NewSouth Communications, has reached an agreement to be acquired by Windstream Corp. of Little Rock, Ark., the companies said Tuesday.

Separately, Hartness International, a packaging machinery maker founded in Greenville in 1974, has been bought by Illinois Tool Works Inc. of Glenview, Ill., executives with both companies said Tuesday.

Windstream said it expects to maintain a "significant presence" here although it said it was early to say how many of the 700 Nuvox jobs in Greenville it would retain. ITW said it expects Hartness International's local work force of about 500 to grow.

The loss of a headquarters is a blow to Greenville in several ways, said Ben Haskew, president of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. He said he hopes most of the jobs will be remain in Greenville.

"When a headquarters is gone, you lose a lot of the wealth that stays with a company, he said. "This is the way of the corporate world. We need to be more aggressive about recruiting headquarters and growing our own. We need to ensure the right business climate is here for companies that want to come and those that want to grow here."

Windstream Corp., which has signed a definitive agreement to purchase Nuvox in a transaction valued at about $643 million, plans to maintain Greenville as a hub for its competitive local exchange carrier business, said Brent Whittington, chief operating officer for Windstream, with a significant employment presence in the city to manage sales and service for the combined CLEC activities.

"We expect those to be long-term jobs," he said.

No decisions have been made yet about NuVox headquarters staff, but the company will be based in Little Rock, said Jim Akerhielm, chief executive of NuVox.

Meanwhile, ITW will operate Hartness International as one of its divisions and doesn't plan any cutbacks, said Timothy Gardner, an executive vice president with the Illinois-based conglomerate.

In fact, ITW plans to bring some production from its existing packaging machinery business to Greenville, Gardner said Tuesday from Hartness International headquarters.

Gardner said he couldn't say how many new jobs ITW might add in Greenville in late 2010 or early 2011.

Gardner and Bern McPheely, president of Hartness International, said ITW bought the local company in an all-cash deal that closed Friday. They declined to disclose the sale price.

Hartness International makes packaging machinery and packaging for various industries, especially the food and beverage industries, and employs about 500 at a plant and headquarters off of Garlington Road and a separate plant on Pelham Road.