S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 30, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0930.simt.htm


Pee Dee manufacturing center is employment gem
By Andy Brack, Publisher

SEPT. 30, 2007 - - For the Pee Dee, a region sometimes looked down upon by the big economies of Charleston, Greenville and Columbia, a just-opened manufacturing technology center may be its jobs manna from heaven.

With much fanfare, the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology (SIMT) opened this week at Florence-Darlington Technical College with officials showcasing robotic assembly tools and 3-D virtual reality training resources in the 177,000 square foot, multi-purpose facility built in just 16 months.


US Rep. Jim Clyburn uses hand movements to manipulates a 3D computer interface at the Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology. Florence-Darlington Technical College President Charles Gould is at left. (Photo provided.)

And while the Institute has a bunch of gizmos that look neat on TV, these tools are the Pee Dee's ticket to reinvigorating manufacturing jobs in the region, says Florence-Darlington Tech President Charles Gould.

"The potential is jobs," Gould said. "If we don't have this kind of support center, we're not going to be able to attract jobs."

And then he says something more interesting, particularly in an area in which every county has a jobless rate that's higher than the state's already high 5.6 percent: "If this thing develops the way we think it is, in the next five years, we will not have an unemployment issue here," Gould said.

Joe W. King, head of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership now located in the SIMT facility, is equally enthusiastic.

"This facility is going to change the landscape of eastern South Carolina more than any other thing," he said. "The SIMT will provide opportunities for the workforce to acquire the skills that manufactures desire to compete in a global economy. If companies are confident a community or region has a workforce with the skills that will make their operation successful and competitive, they are much more inclined to locate there. Having said that, yes, it (SIMT) will be the catalyst that decreases the region's unemployment figures."

Pretty strong talk. But, as Gould points out, global manufacturers are becoming frustrated with some outsourcing opportunities. If manufacturing were merely assembly, China would have it all. But manufacturing includes research, development, rapid prototyping, training skilled workers, using high-tech equipment and more. In China, Gould notes, manufacturers are having problems with consistency of assembly - - something also that doesn't occur here.

"As manufacturers compete in a global economy, two key components to their future success are the availability of a skilled workforce and the ability to capitalize on technologies that will help their business improve quality, productivity and profitability," King adds. "The sole focus of the SIMT is to address these two critical issues, and it is one of only a handful of facilities in the world with the capabilities to do so.

"The customized training programs in a variety of manufacturing areas and the ability to assist companies in developing advanced manufacturing processes will benefit not only the companies utilizing SIMT, but the people who live and work in the region."

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So, there's a real opportunity in the Pee Dee for the SIMT to provide a panoply of tools for manufacturers to use to develop their wares in an environment that provides more security for their investment than some foreign countries. Development officials are also hoping that once they're impressed with the work ethic and quality at the Institute, they'll stick around and locate a facility nearby.

"We're never going to be a Charleston, Greenville or Columbia," Gould notes. "They all have their own business environments. What we're trying to do here is create a different environment.

"We present a different package as an economic development carrot. This is a different twist on it."

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, can be reached at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary


Old Sheldon Church was beautiful building

Moss-draped live oak trees shade the quiet burial ground that surrounds the ruined Sheldon Church of Prince William's Parish. Its molded brick columns support a nonexistent portico and continue between arched openings along the side walls to lend a sense of enclosure to the unroofed building. Even in ruins, Sheldon Church symbolizes Beaufort County's prosperity during South Carolina's early years as a royal colony. Sophisticated in its architecture and craftsmanship, this isolated brick edifice was among the first examples of the temple design in the English-speaking world.


Ruins of the old Sheldon Church.

In the 1730s, influential planters began moving to the former Indian lands, bringing their slaves and creating wealth, and in 1745, the Commons House of Assembly established Prince William's Parish. No longer was it necessary to travel to St. Helena's Parish for worship or voting. So that a church could be built, Elizabeth Bellinger donated a 50-acre tract of Tomotley Barony, next to William Bull's Sheldon Plantation. Construction was funded largely by the Bulls, supplemented by legislative appropriations. The result, completed in 1757, was "esteem'd a more beautiful Building than St. Philip's. It is far more elegant than St. Michael's.

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This emblem of English political and religious organization was burned in 1779 by a band of Beaufort Tories. Not until 1825 did commissioners advertise for estimates "to cover the Ruins of the Sheldon Church ... with a plain strong wooded Roof, putting Doors, Windows, Benches, and a Floor to do the same." The rebuilt church was consecrated in 1826, but in 1865 both the church and its summer chapel in McPhersonville were burned. A replacement chapel was constructed in 1898. Sheldon Church has never been rebuilt. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

-- Entry by Sarah Fick, The South Carolina Encyclopedia

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Blast from the past

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Immigration to forefront
By Bill Davis, editor
Exclusive from the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

SEPT. 28, 2007 -- Immigration, like a nighttime border crosser, slipped into next year's state legislative agenda by taking a back alley well-worn by the national debate on the subject.

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  • BLOGROLL: Return of the Blogroll
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  • MEGAPHONE: Infidel alert

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Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. No republication is allowed.