County Councilman Roger Nutt grew up on the west side of Spartanburg County and remembers a time when Highway 290 was just a two-lane road.
"I've seen it go from ... a little two-lane road with trees overhanging the whole road and beautiful large homes on either side and farms," Nutt said. "And to where it is now. It's just a progression of where we are."
Now, the trip down the Highway 290 corridor from Duncan to Moore looks a bit different. It's a four-lane road crowded with shopping centers, restaurants, neighborhoods, apartments — and huge manufacturing companies that employ thousands.
"Not only has (development) not slowed down, it's probably peaked as much as it has in a decade or so," Nutt said.
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Nutt and OneSpartanburg, Inc. economic development leaders credit Spartanburg's strong manufacturing companies, school districts, and the proximity to Greenville for the demand for more residential and commercial real estate along the highway.
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Along Highway 290 are companies like Kobelco Construction Machinery USA; Magna Seating, a tier-one supplier for BMW in nearby Greer; and in early 2021, Keurig Dr Pepper will open its doors to its largest roasting and manufacturing facility in the Tyger River Industrial Park.
FlexQube, a Swedish company that makes material handling carts and racks used by automotive manufacturers, is also setting up shop at Spartanburg Community College’s Tyger River campus in Duncan.
It’s a “strategic” place for FlexQube to be in order to grow its client base and best serve customers, its CEO Anders Fogelberg said in a statement released by the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The Spartanburg area is a great area for us to locate to with many of our customers located nearby," he said in an email. "The area is business-friendly and it is also a great place to live in. This means we have the potential for future growth and look forward to being an attractive employer."
Tens of thousands of people work in manufacturing in the Upstate — and thousands work in proximity to Highway 290, according to Kyle Sox, OneSpartanburg, Inc. vice president of industrial development.
"The manufacturing and industrial cluster of the Upstate/I-85 is more like an ecosystem when it comes to manufacturing locations and workforce," Sox said. "Highway 290 just happens to be a very important part of that ecosystem, but extricating it from the bigger context is first, not practical and secondly, not representative (of all manufacturing in the Upstate)."
To put it in perspective, BMW employs 11,000 at its 7 million-square-foot campus in nearby Greer, according to its website. Along Highway 290 alone, there are more than 100 industrial facilities, some supplying auto equipment to the German automaker.
Keurig Dr Pepper anticipates hiring 500 at its Spartanburg plant — and used the Spark Center at the Tyger River campus of Spartanburg Community College while its permanent facility was under construction.
The Spark Center is a 363,000-square-foot space that serves as office and warehouse space. A company can use the space — free of charge — in exchange for its commitment to build a permanent facility in Spartanburg.
"Keurig Dr Pepper stayed there at no cost to the company for a year while they were building their facility, receiving equipment, hiring people, training people," Sox said. "So they have free offices and free warehousing space because they're committed to being on Highway 290 in Spartanburg County."
Katherine O'Neill, OneSpartanburg, Inc.'s chief economic development officer, said Spartanburg's diversification of industry and deep roots in manufacturing allowed it to continue to grow countywide, even during a global pandemic.
"So if you look at BMW, they merely paused their production (due to COVID-19), they're already back to where they were as far as production ... from March," O'Neill said. "(Spartanburg) was resilient during the recession and resilient now, during a global pandemic."
Highway 290's proximity to interstates 26 and 85 and the inland port in Greer also has allowed production to continue smoothly during the pandemic, O'Neill said.spar