Our April Spotlight! is shining brightly on Kenneth Sales, a savvy KRA Business Services Team Lead working out of the Kingstree office in the Waccamaw Region of South Carolina. Sales was a key player in a remarkable economic recovery and expansion effort concerning GSE Lining Technology (GSE), a leading manufacturer of geosynthetic lining products and services with an international presence in agriculture, aquaculture, canals, golf courses, mining, power, stormwater retention, waste containment, and wastewater markets. Headquartered in Houston, TX, GSE has facilities in Chile, Egypt, Germany, and Thailand, with domestic plants in Houston; Spearfish, SD; and Kingstree.
In August 2011, F. Hilton McGill, Executive Director of the Williamsburg County Development Board (WCDB), contacted Sales to enlist KRA’s assistance in identifying workforce resources to assist GSE in preventing a possible plant closing. Sales, who had collaborated with McGill before on several local development projects, set out to solicit the aid of stakeholder-representatives from GSE; the Waccamaw Region Council of Governments (COG); readySC™, a workforce education and training program of the SC Technical College System’s Division of Economic Development and Workforce Competitiveness; WCDB; and GSE World, the parent company.
Each member of the consortium played a critical role in averting the plant closure and dislocation of workers. The Waccamaw Region COG got the ball rolling by processing a Lay-Off Aversion Application and request for Incumbent Worker Training for GSE. KRA staff provided credential screening (a specialized assessment process that compares a customer’s documented educational preparation, employment history, and skill sets against the employer’s job description and worksite culture) for 184 applicants referred by readySC™, which also provided customized training for 26 potential GSE hires. The WCDB provided valuable economic incentives, which cannot be disclosed here. However, their website indicates that some of the State’s incentives include Corporate Income Tax Credits, Exemptions and Incentives to Offset Property Taxes, Exemptions from Sales Tax, as well as customized incentive packages specific to individual business interests. GSE World invested $5M dollars into the expansion project. In addition, the SC Coordinating Council for Economic Development, whose mission includes facilitating the expansion of current enterprises throughout the State, approved a rural infrastructure grant worth $350,000 for the County to help with a rail spur to the GSE facility, providing much-needed transportation to the plant.
The infusion of these aggregate resources afforded GSE enough incentives that the plant announced not only would they not be laying-off 39 employees, but would be generating 24 new job openings! Last month, a local newspaper reported, “GSE Lining Technology…is expanding its current operations in Williamsburg County. The $5 million investment is expected to generate 24 new jobs. With this expansion, GSE will be able to manufacture their complete line of geosynthetic clay liner products. The company is targeting May to complete the expansion [which] should bring extensive opportunities for the citizens of our community. The company’s investment and growth potential are two prime examples of quality economic development.”
Impressed with KRA’s proactive and results-oriented response to the situation, especially Sales’ business expertise, GSE agreed to fill the first five primary positions (one Electrical-based Maintenance Mechanic and four Operator I and II jobs) through KRA. Sales conducted the initial recruitment and screening of candidates from KRA’s pipeline of Adult and Dislocated Workers, certified under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). GSE conducted the final interviews, selected five applicants, and negotiated a 10-week OJT contract with KRA on behalf of each worker. Even though the OJTs are partially subsidized (SC allows businesses reimbursement up to 75 percent of the new employee’s wages during the OJT period), GSE has already guaranteed KRA the positions will become permanent jobs after the OJTs end, and that each job will transition into a supervisory position once the plant expansion is completed.
Alisha Williams, Program Manager for the three WIA Programs operated by KRA in the Region, reported, “In Williamsburg County, when it comes to second chances most businesses are not given the opportunity to support the vanishing manufacturing industry. With more and more businesses trimming costs, and even closing down, the local economy finds itself in a constant state of battle between corporate restructuring and outsourcing… something that GSE in Kingstree knew too well.”
Sales concluded, “The role that KRA plays in local workforce development is pivotal within the scope of an area’s economic development and growth. Whether a new or expanding industry, it’s important to realize that the gap in economic stability stems from the skills base within that particular community’s workforce. In today’s competitive market, customized skills training is an important aspect, but not the only tool that KRA utilizes. As partners with public and private entities in our communities, KRA makes every effort to identify functional relationships and resources that effectively assist to maintain or improve the quality of the workforce spectrum.”