Tire plant that would bring 1,200 jobs to Midlands might not be built

ORANGEBURG COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Give him a crane big enough, and Joe Rich will move the world.

"If you ever want to get rid of stress and tear up a car or move some scrap, this is the thing to do it with," he said, while he stood beside a giant blue crane capable of lifting about 50,000 pounds.

His expanding recycling business – Sunshine Recycling – is a metaphor of what's happening in Orangeburg County right now. Business is booming, Rich said.

"As a whole, I'd say that Orangeburg County is poised for the future very positively," he said.

New buildings – many of them large-scale manufacturers – are rising up out of clear-cut green fields at the Orangeburg County/City Industrial Park.

One of the biggest recent announcements happened last June, when a tire manufacturer from China, Wanli, announced plans to build in Orangeburg County: a billion-dollar investment that would bring 1,200 jobs.

Now, somewhat surprisingly, the future of that deal is cloudy. Officials have said it's now on-hold. Given the intensifying trade war between the U.S. and China, Rich isn't surprised.

"Given (President Donald Trump's) announcement of initially $50 billion of tariffs in relation to the Chinese and, consequently, a week later, upping the ante to $150 billion, I really expected the Chinese government to cool any business plans they had in the continental United States," he said.

But there's a silver lining. Rich said even if the gigantic project isn't revived, other doors will open.

"That same piece of property is being looked at by quite a few other prospects as we speak," Rich said. "I would anticipate that that'll bring – possibly – even a better opportunity to Orangeburg County than what Wanli offered." In other words, more jobs are on the horizon.

The Orangeburg County Development Commission pointed out that there's still a chance the Wanli deal might work out in the end.

Regardless, the commission also noted that the number of companies considering Orangeburg County is the highest it's been in five years, and the unemployment rate in the county is one of the lowest in two decades.

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