BAMBERG – A Bamberg County industry celebrated the $6.2 million expansion of its manufacturing plant on Thursday.

The expansion brought the majority of Phoenix Specialty Manufacturing Company’s operations under one roof.

“This makes our front-end processes more efficient, more accurate and provides our customers with better service,” Phoenix CEO Russell Hurst told those gathered for the celebratory event at the Bamberg plant.

The company’s administrative functions were previously located across the street from Phoenix’s manufacturing plant on Main Highway in Bamberg.

The expansion has brought the company’s sales, customer service, quality and engineering production, scheduling and purchasing groups under one roof. Only the shipping department will remain separate.

Company officials say the change could pave the way for bringing outsourced services in-house and the creation of about 20 new jobs over the next five years.

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Phoenix recently hired 18 new employees, bringing its total to about 124.

The expansion also included the enlargement of the company’s breakroom and parking lot to serve 150 people.

Hurst said the expansion was prompted by a comment made by one of the company’s largest aviation customers in 2019.

“This customer’s senior supplier quality engineering manager came on site to audit our company,” Hurst said. “The audit went well. However, during dinner with a group of us, he remarked he was really surprised it had gone so well.”

Hurst said the individual went on to express his concerns about the company’s lack of parking, the condition of its exterior campus and its capacity to handle additional work going into the future.

“With our significant growth in business, our growth in people and the future opportunities we saw in our markets, we began investing in facility improvements and expansion,” Hurst said.

Phoenix has been an aviation supplier at least since the late 1990s. From 2000 to 2019, it saw its revenues double thanks to its aviation customers.

As Phoenix was finalizing its plans for expansion, COVID hit and “our number-one industry, aviation, collapsed,” Hurst said.

“Many aviation suppliers our size laid off up to 60% of their workforce, but not us,” he said.

Management went to the company’s board of directors and stressed that they did not want to lay off employees and they also wanted to proceed with the investment.

“Our board and our owners understood that we would come back stronger if we invested during the business slowdown,” Hurst said. And that’s what happened.

The company expanded its business with existing and new customers in other markets. Now that aviation is beginning to recover, Hurst is very excited about the next few years.

S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Harry M. Lightsey III said the company should be proud of “four generations of family leadership – a family that is a part of this community, that is dedicated to this community in leadership.”

“It is an incredible story that you were able to stay open and not lay anybody off during the pandemic,” Lightsey said. “You found new ways to continue to keep your business intact with new markets and new companies to work with. That has now positioned you for several years of growth ahead.”

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said while the state often celebrates bringing in new and international companies, celebrating Phoenix is special

“Today we celebrate the expansion of an American company, a South Carolina company, a Bamberg company,” he said. “Sometimes we may take for granted the companies that are already here and say, ‘Well they are already here and let’s get out and get the biggest, best new company to move in.’ We don’t celebrate what has been here forever.”

Hutto noted how employees continue working with Phoenix, saying that’s an indication Phoenix is a “good company to work for.”

“Y’all have probably got one of the best break rooms I have ever seen,” Hutto said to laughter. “You have triple-decker microwaves in there.”

Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance Project Manager Brian Warner said the expansion means a lot to Bamberg.

Expanding an existing industry shows “how an industry can grow in Bamberg,” Warner said.

The celebratory atmosphere of the expansion was coupled with tours of the facility and lunch catered by Bamberg-based Blaz-n-Buz Catering Company.

Phoenix Specialty was established Feb. 26, 1907 in New York, N.Y. In 1960, Robert R. Hurst Sr. became executive vice president and relocated the manufacturing facilities to Garden City, N.Y.

Hurst Sr., affectionately known by family as “Papi,” pledged to Ziggy Hartzog in 1965 that he would build a factory in Bamberg. Hartzog, who served with Hurst Sr. in World War II, was the owner of Ziggy’s Motel and Restaurant.

In the summer of 1967, Phoenix Southern Washer and Gasket was incorporated in Bamberg. The original building was about 14,000 square feet.

In 1976, Phoenix relocated all manufacturing to Bamberg. Under the direction of its third generation, Phoenix expanded to serve thousands of original-equipment manufacturers.

The company has manufactured parts for the space shuttle, the Mars Rover and the Apollo Moon landing, as well as the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team and NASCAR racing teams.

Phoenix Specialty has been manufacturing components such as specialty washers and other custom parts that go into other companies’ assembly lines.

Customers are in a number of industries including agriculture, medicine, nuclear, electric motors and aviation.

The company now ships more than 9,000 different parts to more than 2,000 clients each year throughout the United States. About 5% of shipments are international.

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