The Flanders Corp. plan to build a $60 million air-filtration and containment factory is probably the biggest economic development project to come to the New Ellenton area since the federal government announced more than a half century ago that it was going to build a nuclear weapons facility there, i.e., the Savannah River Site.
The St. Petersburg, Fla.- based corporation is betting that SRS, which has been sharply downsized since the end of the Cold War, still has a bright future ahead of it, especially if it lands new missions such as the nuclear trigger facility and a mixed oxide plant to convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear power plants.
With those projects, Flanders' new subsidiary, Global Containment Systems, could bring up to 800 new and well-paid jobs to the area. But even without them, the firm already has enough business in the hopper, at SRS and elsewhere, to generate 300 to 500 new jobs.
The 129 acres of land Flanders purchased in October, for an undisclosed price, on which to build the plant is located on the northern border of SRS, less than a mile south of New Ellenton. The plant is expected to be built and ready for operation in about a year.
Flanders' move to the area is very important to economic development because these are private-sector jobs that are being created. Hopefully, Global Containment will attract other private firms to the area to serve nuclear needs, creating even more jobs.
Even if SRS gets all the new missions it hopes for, it still won't add enough jobs to come close to what the site's employment rate was during the height of the Cold War. The job slack will have to be taken up by the private sector, with SRS and the Savannah River National Laboratory missions acting as a lever.
If the government steps up nuclear power production, as many energy experts believe it will, then Global Containment's presence in Aiken County should increase the chances of a nuclear power plant being built because of the expertise it brings in manufacturing glove boxes designed to handle plutonium and other highly radioactive materials. This would be another huge job bonanza.
State and local economic development officials - in particular the Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield Counties and South Carolina's Department of Commerce - can take a bow for the key roles they played over a four-year period in getting Flanders to invest in the area's future.
For the first time in several years, there's reason to be optimistic that SRS will be boosting the region's economy again, spawning new businesses and jobs.