BMW

Members of the Acadiana delegation enter the BMW headquarters on Tuesday morning. 

GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Economic development officials here are quick to tout the area’s unemployment rate dips below 3 percent. That’s due to several large employers in the area.

BMW employs about 9,000 at its plant in nearby Greer, and other big employers Michelin, Fluor Daniel and GE are part of the reason why unemployment is that low.

Economic development officials told business and government leaders from Acadiana Monday afternoon that while unemployment is low, the area still has its problems.

“I’m glad you’re here to learn our secret sauce, but we’ve got some challenges,” said Carlos Phillips, director of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. “We have an economic mobility challenge here. Kids born into poverty, (their) chances of moving to the top are the lowest here than almost any other county in the country.”

Every area has its challenge, and Acadiana has its own. But what the Greenville and upstate area of South Carolina has done well has come via public-private partnerships.

The upstate area has 1.5 million people with 468 international companies representing 35 countries. The unemployment rate dipped to 2.8 in the region in November, according to federal data.

In Lafayette Parish that rate was at 4.5 in November.

“Look at the strengths and how it can help the entire region, as well,” said John Lummus with Upstate SC Alliance. “As our unemployments are getting down to the high 2s and the low 3s across the region, we looked at how we could make an impact in the workforce situation. Sixty to 65 percent of the jobs here need a technical degree.”

Much of their success has come from training programs at regional universities but also at technical schools like Greenville Tech. And workforce officials have targeted minority programs to help expand the workforce.

The county has 506,000 residents and is growing at a 1.7 percent rate each year, which equals to about 8,500 new people each year.

“(We’re) focusing on the three H’s — jobs that are highly skills, earn a high wage and they are in high demnd,” Phillips said. “We have a real opportunity in the middle skills category. The average age of a brick mason is 60 years old. You can say the same for welders and concrete finishers.”

But it a lot of the workforce success goes back to the energy in downtown Greenville. For many Europeans connected to BMW and other companies, Lummus noted, the vibrant core of the city reminds them of home.

That European connection stretches back to when the region was a hotbed in the textile industry.

“How do we compete?,” he said. “We compete by creating a sense of place. It all starts with tat commitment to make yourself different.”

Acadiana Business Today: More from Acadiana to Greenville: When the Greenville/Spartanburg area needed to diversify its economy, it hit a grand slam with the BMW plant; Junior Achievement's Business Hall of Fame honors business leaders


Follow Adam Daigle on Twitter, @adamdaigleAdv.