$60 million investment in Irmo (and jobs)

From today’s STATE NEWSPAPER

Irmo-area plant to add 350 jobs
$60 million expansion to boost production at Shaw Industries’ nylon manufacturing facility

By JIM DuPLESSIS – jduplessis@thestate.com

Shaw Industries said Wednesday it will spend $60 million and hire 350 workers over the next five years to expand nylon production at the former AlliedSignal nylon plant on St. Andrews Road.

Shaw’s project is the largest for job creation in Lexington County since 2004, when Pella announced plans to create 450 jobs at its windows plant in West Columbia. It’s also a reversal of fortunes for the 400-employee plant that has lost about 1,000 jobs in the past two decades.

The Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary said it will refurbish a vacant section of the plant to make nylon polymer chips used to produce carpet yarn. Shaw bought the former AlliedSignal/Honeywell plant at 4401 St. Andrews Road two years ago.

Berkshire Hathaway has a reputation for being a long-term investor, but Shaw officials could not be reached for comment on why they are expanding in the Irmo area for a product the company says is suffering from a temporary lull in carpet sales.

In terms of money, Shaw’s capital investment is the biggest in the county since Michelin announced in 2005 it would spend $85 million and create 70 jobs at its Lexington tire plants.

Lexington County’s unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in January was among the state’s lowest, but the loss of jobs at the 47-year-old nylon plant had worried Smokey Davis, chairman of the Lexington County Council’s economic development committee.

“Those big, cavernous rooms that were built so many years ago are going to be full of machines and people again,” Davis said.

Makers of nylon, polyester and other synthetic fibers have been cutting back jobs and production in the United States since the 1990s.

South Carolina had 6,100 people working in the synthetic fibers business in mid-2007, 4,300 jobs fewer than seven years earlier.

However, South Carolina still is home to about 20 percent of these jobs nationwide because job losses have been nearly as steep in other states.

The expansion in Lexington County comes a few weeks after Dalton, Ga.-based Shaw said the decline in the nation’s housing market had spilled over to its floor-covering business. It predicted sales would be down the rest of 2008 for carpets, tile and wood floors.

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, noted the weakness in his annual letter last month but said it was temporary.

Shaw is among the world’s largest carpet manufacturers with more than $5 billion in annual sales and about 31,000 workers, including 1,500 in South Carolina.

Reach DuPlessis at (803) 771-8305.