Upstate SC Alliance celebrates 20 years ‘at the front end of the funnel’

Mark Farris was working for an economic-development organization near Charlotte when he saw an ad aimed at luring companies to the Upstate. He was blown away — precisely what the Upstate SC Alliance intended with its “I Was Blown Away” marketing campaign in the late 2000s.

“At the time, with the regional efforts that were underway then, that seemed the most effective way to market, and I felt they really hit the target,” Farris, now president and CEO of the Greenville Area Development Corp., says of those slick commercials.

“They” are the members of Upstate SC Alliance, the 10-county public-private partnership that marks its 20th anniversary this year. These days, John Lummus, its third president and CEO, oversees a $3 million annual budget with counties paying 50 cents per resident — and seeing a handy return on those dues.

In April, for instance, Spartanburg County announced Keurig Dr Pepper’s $350 million investment in a coffee roasting and packaging operation in Moore, expected to create 500 new jobs.

“From the perspective of what we do, what we’re supposed to be doing for the Upstate, that would be a great example,” Lummus says, adding: “We don’t take credit for projects. We’re just on the front end of the funnel.”

In 2014, Lummus took over from Hal Johnson, who became alliance president in 2005 and is now chief development officer at the NAI Earle Furman real estate company. Before Johnson, Sam Konduros served as the group’s first chief executive.

Around 2000, Konduros says, corporate execs and government policymakers embraced the idea of a marketing organization with a broader economic-development scope.

“With a rapidly evolving global economy, we needed at least to harness the energy of the entire Upstate and not have our counties just kind of going it alone or even necessarily competing with each other,” he says.

Konduros is now president and CEO of the SCBIO life-sciences industry association, headquartered on Woodruff Road in Greenville. He started the nonprofit Upstate SC Alliance with a staff of two. Lummus today oversees an 11-member crew in a plush office suite just off Verdae Boulevard.

When Lummus became chief executive, 375 international companies called the Upstate home. Today, that figure stands at 510, according to the organization whose tagline is “Business Moves Here.”

A high-water mark came in 2008, when the organization’s then-treasurer and now state Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt told members the “Blown Away” campaign worked. That same year saw $2 billion in investments, including BMW’s $750 million expansion.

Looking forward, Lummus sees a two-fold approach to marketing the region: going after smaller so-called “middle-market projects” because companies with annual revenues between $10 million and $100 million are presenting better and more recruitment opportunities; and attracting talent.

The group’s new ‘Move Up’ initiative, for instance, showcases such local amenities as bicycle trails, food trucks and sunshine — aimed at workers to fill 200,000 unique jobs that 10,000 employers posted in the Upstate last year.

Erin Ford served as the alliance’s business recruitment officer from 2012 to 2015. Today, she works with Konduros as SCBIO’s vice president. She calls Lummus and his staff the “storytellers of the Upstate.”

Without them, she says, “company executives would have no idea the wonderful things that are here in the Upstate region.”

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