Originally created 11/17/00

Edgefield County sews up manufacturer



TRENTON, S.C. - Edgefield County has landed a division of the world's largest apparel manufacturer, robbing Georgia of 310 jobs and a $25 million investment, officials announced Thursday.

VF Playware Inc., whose parent company is VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C., manufactures and distributes children's and infant apparel, bearing the Healthtex, Lee Kids and Lee Jeans brand names.

It will build a nine-acre southeastern distribution center on U.S. Highway 25 in Trenton, making it the first tenant in the county's new industrial park.

VF Playware, formerly called H.H. Cutler Inc., has had a 204,000-square-foot facility in Forward Augusta Industrial Park on Tobacco Road since 1991, Augusta commercial real estate agent Jay Willingham said.

He said he has been trying to get the company to renew its lease, which runs out in June, and expand the facility to 450,000 square feet.

But Mr. Willingham learned Thursday that VF Playware chose Edgefield County instead because South Carolina's economic development incentives are much more aggressive than Georgia's, he said.

"Again, the incentives for South Carolina were considerably greater - about $4 (million) or $4.5 million greater," he said.

The company expects to consolidate some jobs from its distribution center in Reidsville, N.C., officials said.

John Martin, vice president of marketing for VF Playware, said the Reidsville center is a union facility, so the terms of employment are being discussed. The Augusta employees will be offered whatever package the North Carolina group gets, he said.

"(The driving distance) may cause some concern as far as being able to commute. But we certainly hope to be able to retain some employees from that facility," Mr. Martin said.

VF Playware notified workers Wednesday that they could transfer to the new facility, said Robert Long, assistant director of the Economic Development Partnership.

The company is the latest of several high-profile, incentive-driven projects that have been lured across the river by South Carolina.

Two Augusta companies, Rest Master Bedding Co. and the now-defunct A&L Foods Inc., relocated to Aiken County to take advantages of incentives offered to them as "new industries."

Edgefield County offered VF Playware a reduced tax rate of 6 percent with an additional reduction of $600,000 that must be invested in taxable property, Edgefield County Administrator Wayne Adams said.

VF Playware will make average annual tax payments of $215,000 on this initial investment, and the estimated annual payroll for the 310 jobs is nearly $7 million, he said.

Most of the jobs will be in production, with about 20 administrative positions and 20 professional, said Mr. Long. Pay will start at $10 an hour, he said.

VF Playware will be the anchor tenant in the industrial park, which is under construction. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Tuesday, Mr. Adams said. "We're thrilled that our industrial park is already on the map, even before it has been completed," Mr. Adams said. "(VF Playware was) also attracted by the fact that we had obtained all the necessary permits for them to begin construction."

The company expects to open in June, officials said.

"The decision by VF Playware to locate in the new Edgefield County Industrial Park marks the largest announcement in our county in over five years," county council Chairman Monroe Kneece said.The company's $25 million investment more than doubles the total investment made by companies last year in Edgefield County, Mr. Adams said. With this announcement, the county has secured $49 million in new capital investment this year and a total of 587 new jobs.

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.