By Liz Segrist
Published Oct. 27, 2011
South Carolina lacks in entrepreneurialism support for young companies, but excels with incentives and welcoming companies to the state, according to panelists at GSA Business’ Power Breakfast today.
Didi Caldwell, Global Location Strategies principal; Joseph Lancia, CEO of Scio Diamond Technology Corp.; and Tim Rose, REMA USA managing director, discussed how they powered through the recession and what South Carolina does – or could do – for companies coming to the state.
“South Carolina and the Upstate do a very good job of determining our competitive edge and marketing it,” Caldwell said. “We’ve benchmarked about how to survive this recession the next two to five years. But, what can do we do in our communities to be a game changer in the next 20 years? I think skill sets will be very important in answering that.”
South Carolina continues to recruit manufacturing and heavy industry companies, such as advanced materials, chemicals, power generation and composites, while data centers and entrepreneurial start-ups need more support, she said.
“We don’t do a good job of providing resources for young entrepreneurial companies with mentor programs, incubators and funding,” Caldwell said. “We are way behind North Carolina and Georgia.”
Many opportunities are available for companies looking to locate in South Carolina, including venture capital, bank financing, government programs, grants, training programs, FILOT incentives and the low labor costs. Caldwell said it’s essential to have both the technology and the ability to commercialize it to be successful.
Scio Diamond Technology Corp. has been searching the Upstate for a site to manufacture cultured diamonds for both the consumer and industrial markets.
Scio is somewhat recession proof in the sense that its technology is cutting edge, Lancia said.
“This is game-changing technology that could change the world, like in the medical field or through water purification, so the recession almost doesn’t matter,” Lancia said “The raising capital process starts with people.”
Rose launched the German company’s North American headquarters in Greenville three years ago during the start of the recession. REMA manufacturers cable terminals, connectors and other industrial market components. After launching in the U.S., REMA developed a new product line to supply charger connectors to the electric-vehicle market.
“We launched the company when the economy was falling apart and we’ve run with pedal to the floor,” said Rose, who plans to focus on cash management and hold back on sales into 2013. “The electric vehicle market is growing and there are lots of inquiries, but not a lot of orders yet.”
Caldwell, who has been in the consulting business for more than 10 years, said many projects throughout the state and the Upstate were shelved in 2008 and some companies have accrued unprecedented levels of money during this time.
“Companies are in a ‘wait and see’ attitude right now,” Caldwell said. “They’re not ready to commit, but they are thinking about being ready to commit. They are cautiously optimistic and they’ve learned to get more output out of the same assets.”
Both Rose and Lancia said partnerships with state and local government, economic development agencies, such as the Greenville Area Development Corp. and the Greenville Chamber, and with local companies, like Duke Energy, made the difference in choosing the Upstate.
Rose looked at sites in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for three months. The quick response from economic developers and the city’s hospitality led REMA to locate in Greenville.
“I was one employee and eventually would be 15 to 20 employees,” Rose said. “It didn’t matter that I was a small company. I got a call back.”
Rose and Lancia seek employees with specific skill sets. Lancia said his company will search for people with mechanical engineering backgrounds that can be trained to run the diamond growing machines. Lancia plans to work with local schools, specifically Clemson University.
Read the full story in the Nov. 7 print edition of GSA Business. Subscribe here.