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 Summer 2015
 Southern Business & Development


Sumter, S.C. wins big – beating the odds by getting into the game

The criteria for Project Soccer were specific – a 240 acre rail site on an interstate. 

By Rick Farmer

Sumter County (S.C.) Development Board Chairman Greg A. Thompson (left) welcomes Sumter County Council Chairman Gene Baten to the lectern at the Oct. 6, 2010 Continental Tires announcement in Sumter’s Historic Opera House. Continental Tires The Americas will create 1,600 jobs and invest $534 million in passenger car and light truck tire manufacturing, further solidifying South Carolina’s tire manufacturing dominance. It is the largest ever investment in the Gamecock County. Also shown is S.C. Sec. of Commerce Robert M. Hitt, III, and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.When Jay Schwedler, president and CEO of the Sumter Development Board, found out what the project required, he knew he had the site, the speed and the determination to make Sumter a viable contender.

Sumter had a certified 180 acre rail site with a quick 9-mile, 4-lane corridor to I-95 with no stops.  Schwedler knew that by adding additional surrounding acreage, this site would match the project criteria and should have been on the list of competitive sites throughout the State – not to mention surrounding states. Twenty-four hours before submissions were due, Schwedler got the go ahead to enter the running.

The calls to state development officials asking for the chance to compete, the ability to assemble the acreage within 24 hours, and the negotiating skills to get in the hunt paid off.  What Schwedler and the Development Board knew was that Sumter had all the right pieces of the puzzle; it just needed a chance to be seen. And that chance to get in front of the site consultant and the project team paid off big time on October 6, 2011 when Continental Tire announced to a packed Sumter Opera House that Sumter had been chosen as the site for their new tire plant which, at completion, will be the most advanced tire manufacturing facility on the planet.

"If we had not had the relationships in place, the water and sewer in place, the site certification in place and the private sector funds available to move at the speed required we wouldn’t have even had a chance to be considered" Schwedler said.

Pulling a submission together in 24 hours that met all the project requirements was impressive to say the least. "It said a lot about how we do business here, and it spoke volumes to the drivers on this deal," Schwedler added. "We were in the hunt on a project that would have passed us over had we not been proactive and able to move as fast as we did."

With projects like these, the objective of the site consultant and the project principals is to eliminate sites from the field. 

"Once Sumter was in, the key was to keep us in to the end and ultimately be chosen," remarked Greg A. Thompson, chairman of the Sumter Development Board. Thus began the chase for one of the largest Southeastern projects of 2011. In the end, Sumter County beat out sites in its own state, North Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana for the $534 million, 1,700-job mega project. Continental Tires The Americas plans to produce 16 million passenger and light truck tires each year at the Sumter plant.
Sumter had all the ingredients to be successful in this case, and the challenges didn’t end with Sumter getting on the radar screen. Having been more proactive and more willing to deploy resources towards product development and marketing, Sumter not only met but exceeded the expectations of the group of project managers that began to visit about four months into the selection process

For example, had it not been for the private funds available to the Development Board through the Sumter Smarter Growth Initiative, Sumter could have been eliminated early on. The SSGI is comprised of about 75 private businesses and organizations formed with the mission of assisting the public sector in its efforts to recruit jobs and investment. Schwedler credits the SSGI with being the kind of force the community needed to give it the competitive advantage.

"At one point in the competition we were told we had 48 hours to gain control of some adjacent properties to make the site viable for this particular project, and if we couldn’t meet that timeline, we’d be cut," he said. "We have a great County Council and City Council that support us in everything we do, but public bodies tend to move cautiously and deliberately. The SSGI gives us the flexibility we need to move fast."

That ability to move fast when competing for projects is often the difference between a winning community and a losing community, Schwedler said.

"Prospects don’t want promises; they want action," he said.

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