Third in a series
FLORENCE, S.C. – In the world of business and industry, the biggest wave was felt late this year when Patheon announced it would take over Roche Carolina Inc.’s Florence facility with plans already in place to expand the 300,000-square-foot site.
As Honda and McCall Farms announced plans for expansions, as the retail sector and hospitality industry saw steady growth and as downtown continued to transform, there was still an outlier to all the positive developments: What would happen to Roche Carolina after company officials announced last fall that its Florence operation and three sister sites in Europe were up for sale?
The thorn in the side of 2016’s otherwise stellar successes was plucked by Patheon, which announced in late November that it will take over Roche in Florence, keep 200 jobs and expand its ability to manufacture API, or active pharmaceutical ingredients. An 80,000-square-foot pilot plant also will be brought back to life as Patheon looks to fully realize its Florence investment.
Joe W. King certainly thinks 2016 was a good year. As the executive director of Florence County Progress, he said he doesn’t want to view one aspect of the always in flux world of economic development – Patheon coming to town – as the “highlight” of the year, though he’s quick to acknowledge “it’s big news.”
“And I think Patheon is a good corporate citizen and will bring international attention to Florence,” he said, “which is a great thing.”
Without Patheon stepping in, it was likely Roche’s plant would have been mothballed, he said.
In his line of work, King is careful to give plenty of attention to existing industry and sees a trio of big announcements on the horizon – one probably by the end of the first quarter and the other two in the second quarter of 2017.
“I think ’16 was good and I think ’17 will be as good,” he said, based on “what we have in the pipeline, the inquiries we’re getting.”
With pent-up demand and a pending change in leadership in our nation’s capital, King thinks conditions are ripe for economic growth.
“You’re going to see things happen,” he said.
Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce President Mike Miller sees the continued expansion of the hospitality industry and views Patheon’s deal with Roche as “more of a comforting thing.”
“It could’ve been bad news,” he said.
A renewed focus on education is a positive takeaway for him, as expanding industries need access to a steady stream of skilled workers. The growth of Florence-Darlington Technical College and Francis Marion University keeps jobs local, he said.
Next to his downtown office is the first stage of construction of a new 103-room Hyatt Place hotel taking shape on East Evans and Dargan streets, a five-story, $15 million project being developed by SpringBridge Development and to be managed by Raines Hospitality. Just around the corner from the chamber, another big project is in the works as Carolina Bank looks to transform the Art Trail Gallery at 185 W. Evans St. into the bank’s new headquarters and administrative offices and a new retail branch as part of a $4.5 million investment.
Miller thinks downtown “is still a step or two away from wholesale changes in retail,” but it will slowly happen as housing falls into place and the new hotel and bank come into focus. Add a few new eating establishments into the mix and foot traffic continues to build.
“In general it’s all so encouraging,” he said, and more than just a flash in the pan. “I get excited thinking about what this place will look like even in the springtime. The judicial center will be done soon. Actually, in one word, this is cool.”