Upstate Manufacturing Facility Celebrates 50 Years of Production

With a workforce of more than twice the number of residents in the town where it's located, Itron, one of Oconee County's largest industrial employers, has cause to celebrate. Having gone into commission in 1962, the plant, located in West Union, is celebrating 50 continuous years of operation.

A global technology company, Itron builds solutions that help utility companies measure, monitor and manage energy and water. With thousands of employees - approximately 650 of which currently work at the Upstate facility - the company produces products used by nearly 8,000 utilities in more than 100 countries.

And the West Union plant is the cornerstone of Itron's smart meter operations. Workers research, design and manufacture key components - from meters to transformers to circuit boards - required to create a smarter energy grid, empowering its customer base to responsibly and efficiently manage vital resources.

"Although our manufacturing operation is very advanced and cutting edge, we're not just a manufacturer facility," said the plant's General Manager of Operations, Mike Higgins. "We also have extensive research and development, product development and technology development activities that take place here."

Advancements:

When groundbreaking took place on the 82-acre campus in 1960, the facility boasted 150,000 square feet. By 1978, the plant had expanded to 239,000 square-feet, and in 1995, the size was increased to its present-day footprint of 330,000 square-feet.

Able to take advantage of a $5.2 million federal tax credit in 2009 - one made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - Itron was able to install advanced automation equipment in the plant, including state-of-the-art robotics that work directly on the smart meter assembly line.

And according to a report on Energy.gov, the advanced automation increased the facility's production capacity by 20 percent, allowing Itron to hire an additional 420 employees to complete tasks that could not be automated.

"With a product more akin to a computer than an electricity meter, it takes a lot of very advanced equipment and processes," Higgins said. "Many different technologies are embedded into the smart meter product, a product that gives utility companies the tools they need to manage energy in a smarter way."

Practicing what they preach:

Towards the end of 2010, Itron completed a solar panel installation project that, so far, has generated in excess of 120,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, significantly reducing the Oconee County plant's carbon footprint.

"We are committed to managing vital resources in a responsible way," Higgins said. "We all have a responsibility to make sure that we have a sustainable future and that we manage our vital energy resources in responsibly."

The next 50 years:

Each day, more and more people are learning the decisions we make now about energy and water ultimately shape our future, and Itron stands to benefit from the increasing awareness and increasing demand for smart technologies, ones that will manage energy efficiently and responsibly for years to come.

Itron's official 50th anniversary celebration is scheduled to take place on Friday, October 12, 2012, from 1 - 3 p.m. at the West Union facility. Itron leadership as well as community leaders and officials will gather to celebrate this milestone.

To learn more about Itron, visit their website here.

James Richardson is a freelance writer and the publisher of the Travelers Rest Tribune. When he's not writing, James enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and two children at any one of many places across the Upstate.