Companies sold, headquarters leave S.C.

Associated Press

GREENVILLE, S.C. - The sale of three major companies that grew up in South Carolina has some worried about the loss of corporate headquarters.

Having a company's decision-makers in a community provides intangible assets, said Caron St. John, director of the Spiro Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Clemson University.

"When the executive management team is in a particular city they tend to be loyal to that city and direct a lot of their philanthropic contributions and their activities to that hometown," St. John said. "Now if they have a very large plant in a community or something like that, they may acknowledge that and try to do things in that community. But it is a real loss when you lose a headquarters."

Some recently announced sales include Liberty Corp., Datastream Systems and Ryan's Restaurant Group. All three are being bought by out-of-state companies.

When a company is sold, "the acquirer typically centralizes leadership around its location, not the location of the acquired company," said Hagen Rogers, managing director of Watermark Advisors in Greenville. "The acquired company becomes a satellite."

The losses mean Greenville and the surrounding around need to do more to attract and create new corporate headquarters, business leaders say.

"We can and ought to try to recruit headquarters here, but I think more important we need to grow headquarters here," said Greenville businessman John Warner, founder of the annual InnoVenture venture capital conference. "Headquarters have disproportionate high-wage jobs, they provide disproportionate community leadership, and they make disproportionate contributions locally."

The Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce should resurrect a task force that was used to recruit corporate headquarters to the area in the 1980s, said architect Benjamin T. Rook, owner of Design Strategies.

Rook said the effort landed Michelin North America's headquarters and came close to beating Charlotte, N.C., for Royal Insurance.

The effort included a full-time staffer at the chamber and the cooperation of several chief executives, who Rook says are crucial to the recruiting headquarters. "Strategically, it's a completely different strategy than a strategy to recruit manufacturing jobs," he said.

Jerry Howard, president of the area's economic development arm - Greenville Area Development Corp. - said he supports the idea of enlisting local CEOs to recruit headquarters.

But he said other issues, such as limited airline service and the perception of an inadequate public education system, stymie efforts to draw the top corporate officers to the area.

"They don't have to be large," said Ben Haskew, president of the Greenville Chamber. "Even small headquarters coming to our community can be a real plus because hopefully those companies can grow and get larger."

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