Giant factory, the largest in Richland Co. history, nears opening. It needs workers

Jushi USA building 800,000-square-foot factory in Columbia

Jushi is the largest fiberglass manufacturer in the world. It has five factories in China, Egypt and now Richland County.
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Jushi is the largest fiberglass manufacturer in the world. It has five factories in China, Egypt and now Richland County.

Hidden behind a pine forest at the end of Shop Road sits a behemoth.

It’s the largest factory ever built in Richland County and one of the biggest in the state — an 800,000-square-foot monster that dwarfs the 550,000-square-foot Westinghouse plant on Bluff Road and even the 584,000-square-foot Boeing Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston.

You can fit about 14 football fields in the plant today, and it’s only half done.

When the second phase is finished in about three years, the Jushi fiberglass manufacturing plant in the new Pineview Industrial Park in Columbia will weigh in at a whopping 1.6 million square feet.

Jushi is a Chinese company, and the name means “giant stone,” the foundation of heaven and earth.

“I was blown away when I saw it,” said Richland County Council member Paul Livingston, who as chairman of the economic development committee recruited the firm.

The Jushi plant in Columbia is still under construction but has begun the process to hire 400 workers. The plant will make glass fibers and pellets to be used in the manufacturing of lightweight products. 9/20/18 Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

Workers are putting the final touches on the building before they start rolling in equipment. They held a ceremony on Tuesday to install the first brick in the main furnace, and hope to start spinning out fiberglass in the first quarter of next year.

The cost of the project is $400 million. And even though it’s a big building, the manufacturing process is simple.

Sand, clay and chemicals are mixed together and dumped into a huge brick and platinum furnace, which makes glass. The glass then passes through sieves and is cooled and coated into thread-like fibers, which are rolled or chopped.

The material is then used to make everything from car engines and windmills to jet skis, oil platforms and broom handles..

“We take dirt and make money from it,” said Drew Walker, the plant’s president.

World’s largest fiberglass manufacturer

Jushi, founded 25 years ago, is headquartered in Zhejiang, China. It is the largest fiberglass manufacturer in the world.

It has five factories in China, Egypt and now Richland County. And it’s growing like crazy, with new plants planned for Turkey and India.

“We want to double the size of our business in five years,” said William Woo, Jushi USA CEO.

Companywide gross sales are $1.45 billion.

The Pineview plant will be the company’s first production facility in the United States, said Walker, an Englishman working for a Chinese company in South Carolina.

The facility will exclusively produce fiberglass rovings and chopped glass fiber for thermoplastics, Walker said.

It will produce $110 million to $120 million in product each year. That’s 80,000 tons a year of the super-light fiberglass thread.

The second plant will produce another 80,000 tons annually.

“We’ll turn on the furnace next quarter and not turn it off for 10 years,” Walker said

Tight market

Workers will be paid from $15.25 an hour to $17.25 an hour, Walker said.

The plant needs 400 workers now, and another 400 when the second phase is complete.

The trouble has been finding them.

“The labor market is a little tight,” said Walker, a veteran fiberglass production executive who was president and CEO of AGY fiberglass in Aiken for 10 years.

So far, the company has brought on 100 employees, with the help of the state Technical College System’s Ready SC program, Midlands Technical College and Bible Way Church of Atlas Road’s Dream Center.

“We want to be in the center of the community,” Walker said.

Those interested in applying can go to www.readysc.org/jushi/.

Employees work in 12-hour shifts, 15 days out of 30, providing lots of down time, which keeps them fresh, Walker said. That’s a little different than how things are normally done in America.

“There’s no right way; no wrong way,” Walker said. “Just different ways.”

The next step

Workers are now being trained at a mock-up facility in Sumter. And of the 100 hired so far, 40 have been sent to China.

“There, they get training hands-on,” Walker said.

One of those workers was Marcus Lemon, a 38-year-old Manning native who had never been on a plane, much less out of the country.

“I have a fear of heights, and it was 26 hours in the air,” he said. “But I was determined to overcome my fear.”

When it came to the food, however, “I did sandwiches in my room,” he said.

Jushi is the first tenant in the new 900-acre Pinewood Industrial Park. Walker said he would like some neighbors.

“I would like to create a cluster,” he said.

County Council member Livingston said that’s the next step.

“We are working on getting more people ready to work,” he said. “And our focus is to start getting some suppliers. This is the largest thing we’ve done.”