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Okonite celebrates expansion, additional investment could follow

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Okonite celebrates expansion, additional investment could follow

It was a day of pride and celebration for The Okonite Company Wednesday as it reaffirmed its commitment to Orangeburg by announcing $17.8 million in new capital investment.
The investment will bring 40 new jobs, bringing Okonite’s total employment in Orangeburg to 277.

“Okonite is very proud to be here in Orangeburg,” Plant Manager Sherill Newnam told the handful of community leaders gathered at the plant Wednesday. “Orangeburg is a great place to live and work. Our company continues to expand because our employees here show that our employees can handle the job and satisfy our customers.”

About $9.2 million will be invested in production machinery, $8.3 million will be spent on infrastructure related to buildings and about $300,000 of the investment is in support materials such as fork lifts. The floor size will increase by 85,600 square feet.

Newnam said when Okonite arrived in Orangeburg 14 years ago, it wanted to take state-of-the-art technology and put it on one campus to create a “world-class operation.”

“That is what we have here in South Carolina,” Newnam said, noting that Orangeburg’s compound plant is the only one Okonite has in the nation. “We have had to move the walls again this year. We had to add additional storage.”

As part of the expansion, the company will move its shipping and packaging operations into a new facility.

“This improves our capacity, our organization out in the plant,” said Tom Sanchez, Okonite facility manager. “It is really kind of tight out there with what we are doing right now. It will give us a little bit more breathing room in the plant for storage … as well as greater efficiency and more machinery to meet our customer needs.”

Sanchez said business is steady.

“We are holding our own right now,” he said.

Newnam said there are other expansion plans on the drawing board.

“Our management has certainly seen the competence in the people of Orangeburg and our employees,” Newnam said. “We have excellent employees here and they are well-trained at OCtech (Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College).”

George Dean, vice chairman of Orangeburg County Development Commission, said while Orangeburg has been referred to as a “sleeping giant,” Okonite has been anything but asleep.

“When you think of economic development, our first thoughts are on recruitment and retention. When it comes to expansion, that is icing on the cake,” Dean said. “This gives us more capital investment, which will lead to more jobs and more jobs leads to a better quality of life for all of us in Orangeburg County.”

OCDC Executive Director Gregg Robinson pointed to Okonite as a successful existing industry.

“It is a symbol of quality,” Robinson said. “We are very proud to have them here.”

Orangeburg County Council Vice Chairwoman Janie Cooper praised the company for the expansion.

“This is another cornerstone in the economic development of this county,” Cooper said. “Congratulations and we commend you.”

Orangeburg Mayor Paul Miller said Okonite’s announcement makes for a “double doggone good day” in Orangeburg.

“During the years, they have been wonderful corporate partners and had outstanding involvement in our community,” Miller said. “We look forward to more expansions. All that just means is more jobs and more disposable income in the community. For that we are eternally grateful.”

Miller said Okonite showed it is a good corporate citizen when it provided the city with some property near its plant for a fire station.

“They deeded us this property … that belonged to Okonite so we could build a fire station,” Miller said. “That was a tremendous help to us and it helped reduce our cost.”

As part of the presentation, the OCDC and county presented Okonite with a state flag and the city of Orangeburg presented the company with a Community of Character flag.

The OCDC also presented the company with a drawing of the state tree, the Palmetto, for its lobby.

Jon Johnston, chief of programs and materials for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, praised Okonite for its commitment to being environmentally sound.

“This is the example,” Johnston said. “Nobody pushed them, it is not a requirement, but they have decided that they can take a good product and make it even better. There is no hazard in this product but they are just making this better.”

Johnston presented Sanchez and Newnam with plaques in recognition of their leadership in protecting the environment while also making a successful product.

Okonite began operations in 1993, bringing 150 new jobs to Orangeburg. It later added 174,000 square feet to its operations.

In 1996, the company doubled the size of the plant. In 2002, Okonite made a $7 million expansion of its Orangeburg operations with the purchase of a former Hughes Aircraft building.

The company announced a $15 million expansion with expectations to bring in 20 new jobs in October 2005.

Founded in 1878, Okonite is America’s oldest independent wire and cable manufacturer. Early customers included Samuel F.B. Morse for his telegraph network and Thomas Edison for the Pearl Street Generating Station, the nation’s first.

Other notable and recent projects done by Okonite include providing cable used in the Statue of Liberty.

“We power that cable and keep that torch lighting,” Newnam said.

The company also provided its materials to the Arthur Ravenel Bridge project connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant. The company helped to provide the transmission cable for South Carolina Electric and Gas operations as part of the bridge project.

Okonite is a manufacturer of insulated electric wire and cable, specializing in high voltage cable.