Kershaw County, S.C. Makes Adjustments

Rural South Carolina community learns changing with the times means keeping Dana.

By Laura Hendrix Corbin

The nature of business is ever changing. That could mean progress, or it could mean devastation, depending on your perspective. It is those who adjust to change and meet its challenges that succeed in business.

Kershaw County in rural South Carolina met the challenge, and saved 125 jobs in the process.

In early 2003, Dana Corp., which has had a 230,000 square-foot manufacturing site in the Kershaw County community of Lugoff since 1987, learned that its primary local customer, Mack Trucks Inc., would close its operations in nearby Winnsboro. Ohio-based Dana, which would be out the business of providing chassis work for Mack, then announced it likely would have to close the plant.

That wasn't acceptable to Kershaw County officials, who acted purposefully to accommodate the needs of Dana, a valued member of the business community. In fact, what happened next is proof-positive that local developers in this rural community understand the changing needs of local companies.

County leaders joined company executives to explore options for reorienting the plant and its product line. In September 2003, Dana announced that it would relocate its trailer systems production from Montgomery, Ala. to the Kershaw site, a move that accommodates an industry-wide shift away from component parts manufacturing toward assembly of modular systems. The new business provides trailer axels, brakes, suspension systems and ride-and-control systems.

“When Dana needed help, we did as much as we could to ensure that this world-class company stayed in our community,” says Nelson Lindsay, the county's economic development director. “Our county council's philosophy is that our existing companies are as important as, if not more so, those we are attempting to recruit.”

Kershaw County is providing Dana with $20,000 to help make modifications to the plant, and South Carolina's Center for Accelerated Technology Training is retraining the plant's workforce.

When they first became aware of the potential of the Dana plant closing, Lindsay says, county officials were determined to ensure that the facility stayed open. “Kershaw County and its regional partner, the Central South Carolina Alliance, developed a two-pronged strategy to deal with the situation,” he says. “First and foremost, we would work with the local Dana officials to help convince their corporate office to bring additional business to the Lugoff facility. Second, we would also work with the company officials on marketing the building to other companies, in the chance that the building would have to be sold.”

The project was a joint success, Lindsay says. “Craig Jones, plant manager for Dana, worked tirelessly on behalf of his employees to help ensure the facility would remain open. Kershaw County, the Central South Carolina Alliance, and the South Carolina Department of Commerce all worked closely together on the project, with the county and Commerce developing an incentive package to meet the company's needs,” he adds. “Progress Energy contributed to the project by providing a grant to Dana to assist with necessary infrastructure improvements to the facility to accommodate the new product line. Also, the Center for Accelerated Technology Training played a key role in the project by providing retraining to Dana's existing employees on new skills necessary to run the new line.”

While Kershaw County is considered rural, it enjoys “more success than some of the more rural areas of South Carolina,” primarily because of its proximity to the state capital of Columbia, Lindsay says. “The key to this success lies in the county's regional workforce, excellent transportation system, available industrial parks and buildings, and a pro-business local government.”

Dana officials cited several reasons for the relocation of the operations to Kershaw County – an experienced labor force, a state-of-the-art facility for the manufacture of complete assemblies, and ample plant capacity for future growth.

“This action reflects the continuing evolution taking place in the trailer industry from component manufacturing to complete module and system assembly,” Norm Boisvert, vice president of Commercial Vehicle Systems for Dana, said at the time of the announcement. “Manufacturing efficiencies, coupled with the need to serve our customers' needs, led to the decision to move these assembly operations to the Lugoff facility and to close the Montgomery facility.”

Dana's Commercial Vehicle Systems Group designs, manufactures and markets front-steer, rear-drive, trailer and auxiliary axles; driveshafts; steering shafts; brakes; suspensions; and related systems, modules and services for the commercial vehicle market. Major components and modules are marketed under the Spicer® brand name. Dana's strategic marketing alliance with Eaton Corp.'s Truck Components Group provides innovative drivetrain systems under the Roadranger® brand name.

Dana Corp. is a global leader in the design, engineering and manufacture of value-added products and systems for automotive, commercial and off-highway vehicle manufacturers and their related aftermarkets. It employees 60,000 people worldwide.

Lindsay says being able to keep Dana Corp. was huge. “This is a world-class company that provides high-skilled, high-wage jobs in our community. The hope is that not only will the 125 jobs be retained, but that new jobs will be added to the operation.”

Still, Kershaw County isn't happy with only saving those jobs. It intends to position itself to attract and keep more good-paying jobs for its residents, and recently unveiled a new economic development strategic plan that calls for several new initiatives, Lindsay says. “The plan identified several target industry sectors for us to pursue, including automotive, electronic components, and fabricated metal products,” he says. “In addition, the county will be pursuing more office projects, such as back office operations. As part of the initiative, the county is developing a new office park on Interstate 20 that will attract office projects to help diversify the local economy.”