Coming out of the Great Recession, Spartanburg's economy has seen growth in two distinct areas -- manufacturing and entrepreneurship.
Historically, those two microcosms have fallen into the blue collar-white collar divide. But, thanks to advances in technology and a burgeoning support system for startups here, that line has begun to blur.
Both worlds are changing.
The image of a dirty, grimy manufacturing plant is being replaced by one of a more sterile environment. Manufacturing no longer means simply pulling levers and making widgets: It means understanding robotics and having a proficiency in science, math and critical thinking skills.
Likewise, the days where a successful professional wore a button-down shirt and tie and carried a briefcase are giving way to a new, more dynamic entrepreneurial culture -- one where jeans are a part of the dress code, coffee shops double as temporary offices and a MacBook or tablet serves as the IT Department.
The two sectors have "very much a symbiotic relationship, where the two feed off each other," Allen Smith, the CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said.
"Entrepreneurs bring creativity and innovation to anything they do. Of course that's an asset when you're trying to build a new business model or a new product. But that kind of attitude, and those kinds of assets, can be utilized at all levels," he said.
"You show me a manufacturer that's growing, and I'll show you a team of innovators that that manufacturer has on staff."
Spartanburg County has enjoyed a number of job announcements in recent years.
In 2012, the Duncan-based telecommunications company AFL announced an $8.6 million expansion that would create 95 jobs.
An Israeli manufacturer, A.L. Solutions, last year announced plans to invest $3.6 million in Spartanburg County and bring 80 new jobs. Earlier this year, Toray Industries out of Tokyo announced a record-setting $1 billion investment in a new facility in Moore that would create 400 jobs.
And BMW's latest expansion -- the company announced production of the X7 sports activity vehicle in March -- is another $1 billion investment that's expected to create 800 jobs.
That kind of environment makes fertile ground for new ventures, said Mike Forrester, a state representative who serves as economic development director at Spartanburg Community College.
"There's a lot of jobs being created in manufacturing and the different suppliers -- and that creates a mecca for startup businesses," Forrester said. "People have to have different vendors. BMW doesn't make the cars; they basically assemble the cars. The parts are shipped to them from other vendors. That's the ecosystem."
SCC's Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Development at its Tyger River campus in Duncan provides qualified companies space for one year to help them get off the ground. One of those companies is ATCO Industries, a Michigan quality control company that works with BMW, General Motors, Chrysler, Ford and other automotive manufacturers.
"They've given us this facility ... so that we can assess what the needs of this area and the suppliers of this area are going to need for the future, instead of us coming in blindly and doing a lot of guesswork," said Bill Mercer, operations manager.
"Because we have a physical presence here, it's given us time to sit down and analyze what the needs of our client base is going to be."
The Tyger River facility is just one part of a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem in and around Spartanburg -- one that includes a small business incubator at the George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics; the Space at the Mungo Center, which Wofford College students can use to develop business and social entrepreneurship; and the Iron Yard digital accelerator in downtown.
The startup culture has an infectious energy about it, and an unmistakable cool factor.
But aside from the small businesses that are being launched and the next great apps that are being developed, that culture fosters a spirit that more traditional companies can harness, said Scott Cochran, dean of the Space at Wofford. The Space currently houses 24 student-led business and nonprofit ventures.
"Entrepreneurs help not just startups, but help the bigger organizations as well," he said. "Manufacturing, in order to survive, has to be incredibly innovative, from how they do things to the cost of materials.
"And I think bringing in young, entrepreneurial mindsets is going to spark ideas that some of these companies have never even thought of. And that's leveraged by technology, mobile computing and cloud computing. ... They're bringing these conversations into these other companies ... and I think it's going to help.
"It's going to cause people to think about how things have been done, even if things have always been done a certain way."
The entrepreneurial mindset is one of a risk-taker, a problem solver, someone who isn't afraid to try and fail and try again.
Successful manufacturers can benefit from that, Cochran said. He said he's noticed more willingness to listen in the manufacturing sector, partly as a result of the competitiveness of the industry.
"I like the approach of teaching people how to think, how to analyze, and how to creatively come up with solutions. And that's not in conflict with manufacturing. I think it's complimentary," he said.
"You can do a job and also learn the critical thinking aspect that allows you to look at the bigger picture, and problem solve. And not only will you be able to do your job, but solve problems, because we are not in a static environment."
Spartanburg-based Milliken & Co., a textile and chemical manufacturer, perhaps sits at the intersection of traditional manufacturing and innovative entrepreneurship.
There's a "classic tension" between those two worlds, said Sim Skinner, president of Milliken's performance products division.
"Manufacturing excellence is built on process reliability; can you deliver the same product on time every time? Innovation is more about research and testing," Skinner said. "Each system is designed to do different things."
A manufacturer may have to throw out its traditional measures of success to develop a new product, doing shorter runs in order to perform tests.
"It's the classic innovation problem: You've got to make sure you've got a product the market needs. And on the other side ... you've got to make sure you've got the infrastructure to solve the problem," Skinner said.]
"You may have a solution that works in the lab, but then you have to actually manufacture it at the quality the customer needs. And those two problems take different kind of resources to test and validate."
The ideas and energy and leadership emerging out of the startup culture will attract more talent to the area, he said. It feeds on itself. While Silicon Valley and Boston focus on technology, this area has an opportunity to focus more on materials, he said.
"With the loss of textiles over the last 20 years, there's been a real need to find what's next for us," he said.
Earlier this month, SCC released a study that indicated manufacturers in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties would need about 1,500 new workers each year to fill the gaps left by large portions of their workforce retiring. Baby boomers aging out of the local workforce mean the community college will need to expand enrollment and double its annual graduation numbers, just to keep up, college President Henry Giles said at the time.
That doesn't include the workforce needs of any new or expanding manufacturing businesses.
But the entrepreneurial culture here must continue to be supported in order to thrive, which presents dual challenges.
Nurturing the entrepreneurial mindset is just as important as meeting the workforce demands of the manufacturing sector here, said Patty Bock, economic development director for the city of Spartanburg.
"It's a very highly skilled workforce. That is the highest and greatest need for our major employers in Spartanburg County," she said.
"Now, in order to grow the cool, funky, white-collar entrepreneurial network that we would typically like to place in an urban setting, that's different. But, it also really doesn't require a four-year degree. And I'm not slamming a four-year degree. But we have to embrace the diversity of anyone who has the drive and all of the qualities that an entrepreneur may have -- a very hard work ethic, the ability to accept risk, to fail, and to keep on going. It's important that we help to create an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive."
Today's young professionals are found in what have traditionally been blue- and white-collar jobs.
It's potentially a selling point to young people who are deciding whether to pursue a two- or four-year degree -- young people who are figuring out whether they want to stay in Spartanburg, Bock said.
"People can get two-year degrees in our community and get very good high-paying jobs. And they're not going to have the debt that someone entering into a four-year degree would," she said.
"Believe me, the college graduate with a four-year degree and a lot of debt to pay doesn't have as much disposable income as the two-year graduate who is making $63,000 a year."
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