Covidien plant in Greenwood SC Photo: Covidien
Employee expertise and proven competency allowed Covidien to expand its Greenwood, S.C., plant.

Expansion Management: South Carolina Turns Workforce Skills to New Industries

"As South Carolina is the epicenter of the textile industry, which has downsized, our company had access to highly skilled labor as textile operations are highly automated. We were able to tap into those skills and our employees were able to reinvent themselves," explains Dan Hargett, CEO of Steeger USA. 

How can a 20-person company serve as a key supplier to Medtronic (IW 500/73), Boston Scientific (IW500/135), Johnson & Johnson (IW 500/19) and Abbott Laboratories (IW 500/35)? Well, aside from producing the machines these large companies need, which are fine wire/fiber braiding machines used in the manufacture of catheters, stents, leads, data cables and medical textiles, Steeger USA's workforce is highly competent and flexible. 

"As South Carolina is the epicenter of the textile industry, which has downsized, our company had access to highly skilled labor as textile operations are highly automated. We were able to tap into those skills and our employees were able to reinvent themselves," explains Dan Hargett, CEO of Steeger USA. 

See Also: Manufacturing Plant Site Location Strategies

Keeping a healthy share of this market is difficult but Hargett feels he has certain advantages. "The fact that we are a small company doesn't scare me at all. In fact we can change directions before lunch." His larger competitors are not always as nimble.

Sean Hargett, the company's President, points out that while his company is small in numbers it is high in productivity. “As a small company we are adept at using technology, along with teamwork, to achieve a high level of productivity,” he  explains.

As South Carolina's industrial makeup has changed, companies have been able to take advantage of a workforce that is flexible, knowledgeable and very loyal.

Workforce longevity, in fact, creates a competitive advantage according to Jimmy Vickery, plant manager at Covidien's Greenwood, S.C., plant. Covidien, a $12-billion global healthcare company, manufactures adult incontinence products at is Greenwood plant, which has been operating since 1962 and employs 500.  

"Over the last 52 years, our employees have proven able to adapt with the ever changing needs of the business," says Vickery. "We have the benefit of employees who are invested in our future and understand what we need to do to remain competitive." Several team members are second or third generation employees, Vickery adds. 

In addition to adaptability, expertise is essential. In explaining why his company chose to invest in a $20 million expansion at its Greenwood plant, Vickery explains. "Our workforce here has the competency to manufacture these products and has performed consistently."

Workforce tenure played a role in the decision by Capsugel- -- a manufacturer of gelatin capsules for pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements -- to expand its Greenwood location, which is the world headquarters for manufacturing for the U.S. The average tenure at this plant which has been operating here for 49 years is 10 to 20 years. "This is a huge advantage when looking across our plants and deciding where to expand. Our employees are very committed to the company," said Phil Vickery, plant manager. 

While tenure is essential as companies must also look to the future pipeline of talent.  There are a number of programs in place including Work Keys, which helps jobseekers make career decisions and compare their skills to skills required by in-demand jobs. Covidien uses this program along with vocational rehabilitation programs. 

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