Campaign in Oconee County Designed to Inspire Next Generation of Manufacturing Workforce

As South Carolina’s manufacturing industry grows, so too does the need for skilled hands and a developing workforce. By highlighting locally manufactured products to area schools, the Oconee County Economic Alliance hopes to change the negative light on pursuing careers in the industry.

Richard Blackwell

Richard Blackwell is Executive Director of the Oconee Economic Alliance.

“Made in Oconee” is a coordinated marketing initiative designed to enrich the relationship between local manufacturers and the School district of Oconee County, said Richard Blackwell, Executive Director at Oconee Economic Alliance.

“It is our desire that this campaign begins to change the stereotypes and conversations in our area about manufacturing as a career choice,” he said. “Students across the county were asked an array of questions so we could gain a perspective on their sentiments surrounding the industry.”

According to Blackwell, the responses were varied, enlightening and will play an important role in how future conversations are shaped.

The Oconee Economic Alliance wanted to know what students in the county really thought about manufacturing, so “we decided to go straight to the source,” he said.

Because of industry changes in technical expertise and the growing skills gap, local manufacturers are also joining the fight.

With rapid changes in technologies and an aging workforce, “we are facing a significant skills gap in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM),” said Michael Higgins, Sr. Operations Manager for the Itron Oconee facility.

As a business leader and STEM employer, “Itron believes it is our responsibility to invest in the next generation of innovators and problem solvers,” he said. “We need to take every opportunity to show that manufacturing provides exciting and innovative career opportunities.”

Although there is a growing need for welders, technicians and engineers, there has been over $190 million in new capital investment and over 900 new jobs announced in Oconee County over the last 36 months.

Blackwell said manufacturers should invest in Oconee County because it is the “geography of opportunity” in South Carolina

From a great existing industry base to Clemson University, “we have the quality of life and workforce that will make a company successful,” he said. “We tell all manufacturers that we have the location on the I-85 corridor, the workers and the low-cost business environment to ensure success.”

During this first phase of the campaign, the Oconee County Economic Alliance has received involvement from BorgWarner, Itron and Sealed Air.

Blackwell said all 60-plus industries are active in efforts to grow the area workforce as evidenced by the AOP Showcase, an event that works to change perceptions of over 5000 eighth graders on an annual basis.

“We are seeing interest in manufacturing careers grow, and our labor participation rate is at record levels,” he said.

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