SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – One of the largest investments in the Upstate, a plant that is expected to bring 1,000 jobs to the area, is under fire.
In this 7NEWS Exclusive Consumer Report, we look at why the project is on shaky ground and how Spartanburg County leaders are fighting back in defense of South Carolina workers.
The massive old Rite Aid facility, located off Highway 221 in Spartanburg County, is being retrofitted to make way for the production of a new fleet of “next generation delivery vehicles” for the United States Postal Service.
But now Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt says this $150 million investment is under attack from two fronts.
“It could catastrophically impact economic development throughout the U.S. because now you open up a whole different can of worms,” Britt said.
Front number one, Britt said, is the Environmental Protection Agency. A letter to USPS, backed by the Biden Administration, claims the $8 billion deal with Wisconsin based Oshkosh Defense to build the fleet does not meet EPA requirements because it fails to include enough electric vehicles.
“In 32 years of being on council and chairing economic development, I have never heard, not only in Spartanburg or South Carolina, I’ve never heard of this happening anywhere in the U.S. The way they could impact Spartanburg is by stopping 1,000 jobs from coming to Spartanburg and $150-200 million investment,” said Britt.
7NEWS spoke with Don Bent, the COO of Oshkosh Defense, who said the company is still moving ahead with plant renovations and hiring because it is flexible enough to adjust to any changes in the fleet order.
“We stand ready to produce whatever mix that the postal service decides that they need, and we can go all the way up to complete battery electric vehicles,” said Bent.
In a statement, the United States Postal Service told 7NEWS it is already committing to 5,000 electric powered vehicles.
“Our commitment to an electric fleet remains ambitious given the pressing vehicle and safety needs of our aging fleet as well as our dire financial condition,” USPS said.
Still, the EPA is not the only force threatening to hold up production.
The United Auto Workers Union is also launching attacks, along with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, calling on Oshkosh Defense to move the plant back to its home state.
“Oshkosh Defense has a history of manufacturing vehicles in Wisconsin with experienced and skilled union labor, so I don’t like the fact that they decided to move production of the postal trucks to South Carolina in what appears to be a newly acquired facility with inexperienced, likely non-union hires,” Senator Baldwin said in a statement.
Bent said one of the top reasons Oshkosh Defense was attracted to the Upstate, was its workers’ experience in the auto industry.
“We wouldn’t have chosen Spartanburg if we didn’t think that it didn’t have exceptional work force and we’re excited about being there,” said Bent.
Oshkosh Defense told 7NEWS there is no chance of the company doing the work from Wisconsin because it requires an existing facility that is at least 825,000 square feet. The building in Spartanburg County is 900,000 square feet. Oshkosh Defense said there is no comparable size in the entire state of Wisconsin.
And as for Senator Baldwin’s claims of inexperienced workers, Britt said all you have to do is look at BMW, Michelin and the nearly $2 billion in new investments in Spartanburg County alone this past year.
“If she wants to compare us to Winnebago County, they had just under $23 million invested, we had $23 million invested in Spartanburg County in four and a half days last year, not the whole year,” said Britt.
A spokesperson for S.C. Senator Lindsay Graham’s office told 7NEWS that “[he is] is very supportive of the move to South Carolina and our office has been in contact with the company.”
Governor Henry McMaster’s offices also said that “the Governor has been in contact with Oshkosh leadership and has assured them that he will continue to support the company and their ongoing South Carolina project in any way that he can.”
The EPA is requiring USPS to issue a supplemental National Environmental Protection Act document that with a new plan for the fleet that corrects issues like:
- underestimating greenhouse gas emissions
- failing to consider more environmentally protective feasible alternatives
- and inadequately considering impacts on communities with environmental justice concerns
Oshkosh Defense said it remains hopeful the project can remain on schedule with plans to start production in the spring of 2023. The company says hiring is officially set to begin in late 2022, but it encourages people to visit the company’s microsite and sign up to be contacted once hiring begins.