Made in Oconee County: Celebrating Manufacturing in the Golden Corner

“Our community has a rich history of manufacturing prowess and a hard work ethic that is not dying, contrary to popular belief, but flourishing in the changing economy and generating new opportunities.” — #MadeInOC Web site


Ten years ago, the manufacturing industry in the United States seemed to be in an unstoppable decline. However, many signs indicate that not only is manufacturing mounting an impressive comeback, it is leading our country’s economic recovery. In an effort to highlight the impact of the manufacturing industry in Oconee County, where over 60 manufacturing employers provide work for over 6,000 citizens, the Oconee Economic Alliance launched the Made in Oconee or #MadeInOC initiative to share the story of Oconee County’s thriving manufacturing industry.

One important goal of the initiative has been to “bridge the gap between manufacturing facilities and the school system” by helping local high school students understand how important manufacturing is to Oconee County. According to the #MadeInOC Web site, “While most people assume all careers in manufacturing involve a dirty low-paying assembly line, this just isn’t the reality”; the campaign is working to eradicate such misconceptions and to give students a realistic idea of what it is like to work in a local manufacturing facility. In a video posted on the Web site, local high school students and employees from Borg Warner, Itron, and Sealed Air discuss manufacturing careers. Before hearing the stories of the manufacturing employees, students on the video struggle to define manufacturing, indicating they mostly associate this type of work with assembly lines. A second video expands the conversation started by the first video by recording what students learn when they visit the Koyo Bearings facility in Walhalla.

Through the stories of the employees, the students learn about the highly advanced technology and multiple career clusters that are available to them in Oconee, as well as the many types of products that are made locally, right in their home county. Itron employee Summer Loving explains, “[Oconee is] on the cutting edge of technology. We are trying to implement something that you have never seen before—anywhere else in the world.” The sense of pride that the local employees take in the work that they do is evident in the video. Jane Reliford, who works at the Itron facility in West Union, states, “There is just something exciting about watching an idea or plan come through. At the end of the day, when you can look at something and say, ‘That happened because of me,’ it’s really gratifying.”

In addition to sharing the story of manufacturing in Oconee and creating a dialogue about the field with local students, the #MadeInOC initiative helps local students understand that a career in manufacturing can be a lucrative option for them. With an average yearly salary of $58,000 and excellent benefit packages, local companies offer these students the opportunity to live in the communities where they grew up while engaging in an exciting career. Amy Cribb, who works at Borg Warner in Seneca, gives this advice to local students: “If you don’t know what you want to do when you grow up, start in manufacturing. There are so many avenues for branching out. We make good money. We have terrific health insurance. Those things are critical for a stable lifestyle. In addition to that, a lot of manufacturing plants will pay for your education as well. So come start here, get your feet wet, and understand what you want to do with your life.”

After learning about Koyo Industries during his visit to the Walhalla facility, one student states, “This has really been an eye-opener to me, and I would tell my fellow peers, ‘Don’t overlook [a career in manufacturing].’ This is a really great industry to get involved with.”

For more information about the #MadeInOC campaign, click here.

Photos courtesy of Oconee Economic Alliance.

Angela Rogers is a teacher, bibliophile, and freelance writer who is a lifelong resident of the Upstate.