Kortrijk Biennale Interieur Celebrates 50 Years of Design

The  Kortrijk Biennale Interieur celebrated 50 years in October of its internationally acclaimed design festival. The week-long  exhibition has enabled the West Flanders city to move from a dying textile capital to a vibrant creative center.

For this 26th version of the festival, the Biennale was shortened from 10 days to five (Oct. 18-22). Still the impact on the city  both during the event and over the years, is and has been profound.

Transitioning from Textile Legacy

For much of the 20th century, Kortrijk anchored the textile industry of Belgium’s West Flanders region. But as the textile industry moved to other less expensive manufacturing areas, the Kortrijk region remade itself into a creative hub. That process continues today, with the Biennale Interieur being the most visible and internationally recognized symbol of the transition.

The process has resulted in design integrating itself into the local economy to such an extent that in 2017, UNESCO named Kortijk part of its Creative Cities Network. Kortrijk joined 180 other cities in 72 countries. (Only nine are in the US.)

The Kortrijk transformation is as significant as the change undertaken by its US Sister City — Greenville, located in the Upstate region of South Carolina.

Greenville shed its textile heritage to become a manufacturing powerhouse. The Upstate region is home to such companies as BMW, Michelin and Toray.

But while Greenville focuses on  high-end manufacturing, Kortrijk more subtly has worked to build a creative infrastructure that supports new and growing businesses.

5×5 – Creating Next Generation of Designers

That was evident at the Biennale Interieur with the 5×5 program presented by DesignRegio. A public-private partnership, Designregio supports design across West Flanders. Its 5×5 program specifically brings together an existing successful company that seeking help in creating a new process or product. Designregio puts the larger company in contact with an experience designer as well as a young designer. Together, the three partners develop the new process or product over two years, guided by 5×5’s protocols.

At Designregio, the finished work is presented — examined, critiqued and appreciated by the crowds.

Belgian Food Companies Create New Beer for Kortrijk

Two Belgian food industry companies have combined forces to create a new beer for Kortrijk using the town’s own river water, a Belgian newsletter reports.

Made in West Flanders says that Agristo, a large West Flanders potato processor, and De Watergroep, Flanders’ largest drinking water company, are working with Toye brewery to use water from the Leie River in a new beer.

De Watergroep was already purifying the Leie water for use at Agristo. And when a local enthusiast suggested creating the new beer, Toye was quickly on board. Geert Toye, brewery manager, called it “the perfect opportunity to brew with recycled water.”

The Leie has a special significance in Kortrijk, which is a Sister City with Greenville, SC. 

The river was important to Kortrijk’s growth as a major flax center in the 20th Century, which led to its relationship with Greenville, also a major 20th century textile center. Now, the Toye brewery operates from a former flax factory.

Colleton County Woos Packaging Company

Colleton County has an unnamed food packaging manufacturing plant interested in its 100,000 sq. ft. spec building, the Press and Standard newspaper of Walterboro reported on Walterborolive.com.

The county council gave the second of three required approvals to a tax ordinance which noted that the company anticipated “investing approximately $70 million in new machinery and equipment” and could have 360 employees within five years, the paper said.

Colleton County Economic Development Director Heyward Horton said that, if the project is completed, it would be the county’s biggest-ever economic development project.

Colleton is a county of about 40,000 people located adjacent to Charleston County in the Lowcountry area of South Carolina.

For  more information about Colleton and its economic development, click here.

Dynamic Brands Announces Chesterfield County Plant

A Virginia-based golf and accessory company is moving its manufacturing and warehouse operations to Chesterfield County in South Carolina, a recent story in the Columbia Business Journal reported.


Dynamic Brands is set to invest $3.8 million and create 12 jobs at a 65,000 square foot facility in  Pageland, the paper reports. Dynamic is the parent company of several brands of  golf carts, walking bags, golf towels and other recreational and travel accessories.

For more information about Chesterfield County and its economic development, click here.

Cargo Soars at Charleston International Airport

Charleston International Airport has seen its air cargo business rise by 12 percent in 2017, and is on pace to set a record again in 2018, according to a report in the Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston.

The growth is due not only to FedEx’s continuing business there, but also Boeing and its manufacturing center.

“Boeing has brought significant shipments to the area,” FedEx cargo terminal operations manager Mike Matricciano told the paper. “Volvo probably will, too. With all the manufacturing moving here, we are anticipating additional growth.”

And American Airlines spokeswoman Whitney Zastrow said
“Charleston International Airport has become an increasingly popular destination, thanks to the state’s growing automotive industry.”

Click here to learn more about the Charleston area.

Three Hard-Won Lessons That Help Explain Belgian Industry Success…

Belgium is less than half the size of South Carolina.

In March, the annual SC Automotive Summit featured first-ever presentations by a foreign delegation, from 10 members of the Belgian automobile sector.  While not the industrial powerhouse of neighbors France, Germany and The Netherlands, Belgium still ranks in the top 20 nations for competitiveness — not bad for a country less than half the size of South Carolina.

The visiting Belgians are part of the Transport and Mobility Group of Agoria. With more than 1,700 members, Agoria is Belgium’s largest employers’ organization and trade association. Ward Vleegen, head of the visiting sector group, presented three big ideas worth remembering:

Focus on Productivity

Belgian labor costs are 50% higher than the US, and are exceeded only by Denmark and Norway in the 28-member European Union. They’re nearly twice as high as 15 of the EU countries and are the highest of all European auto-producing nations. The consequences of such high labor costs have been gut-wrenching at times, as with the 2014 closing of Ford’s plant in Genk, which at one time employed 4,300 people.

Ward Vleegen, Head of Belgium’s Transport and Mobility Club at Agoria

Vleegen asked the Auto Summit crowd how SC would compete if it faced competition among states as Belgium does among countries. Spain’s labor costs are 45% less than Belgium’s—comparable to Wisconsin’s; and Poland’s are 90% less – comparable to New Mexico, Vleegen said.

And  yet…

Belgium has in some ways made lemons into lemonade. Showing once again that necessity is the mother of invention, the need in Belgium to keep labor costs under control has led to a burst of productivity. In fact, according to the European Union’s statistical office,  Belgian productivity  is the highest in Europe, and about 14% higher than its nearest rival and neighbor, The Netherlands.

How’s that happening? I’m glad you asked….

Belgian Startups Focus on Business-to-Business Opportunity

According to Vleegen, 92% of Belgian startups focus on the B2B sector, compared to 61% in  Europe as a whole. “That means we have a very business-oriented startup community,” he says. And Manufacturing is the second-most targeted sector for Belgian startups, behind Health Care. In Europe overall, Manufacturing ranks as the 6th most-targeted sector.

Vleegen’s analysis? This shows that Belgium is “a  breeding area for innovations in manufacturing.”

According to the SC Manufacturer’s Alliance, manufacturing accounts for 12% of the state’s workforce and 20% of its GDP.  Moreover,  South Carolina’s average manufacturing wage has risen about 30% faster than the national average since 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Making that industry more productive and competitive could have a big positive impact on South Carolina.

And — counterintuitively — more efficient manufacturers don’t  necessarily mean less manufacturing jobs.

Efficient Manufacturers Create Jobs

Since 2015, Agoria and Sirris — a Belgian technology collaborative — have sponsored a “Factories of the Future” award based on their “Made Different” manufacturing transition plan. The honor is presented to companies which — according to Agoria — “excel in how they handle energy and materials”, and which have “creative, involved workers use smart, sustainable production processes in state-of-the-art facilities. The result: an agile, future-proof business that manufactures products with high added value.”

The trade association has tracked these innovative and efficient companies and found that they’re actually  increasing the number of jobs. While employment overall in the sector fell about 5% since 2012, the 16 companies winning the “Factories of the Future” award saw an 11% increase in employees.

The result, says Vleegen, is that Belgium is showing that human-centered, efficient production is viable and sustainable.

Samsung Partners with SC Universities for New Plant

Samsung will partner with Clemson University and the University of South Carolina for a five-year effort to make better home appliances, the company announced.

“Samsung’s ambition is for South Carolina to become our U.S. hub for every stage in the home appliance lifecycle,” said Dochul Choi, Samsung’s Electronic America senior vice president of research and development.

Choi said that includes “from concept and R&D to manufacturing, quality assurance, distribution and customer care.”

The venture is detailed in a report by The Greenville News.

$380 Million Manufacturing Investment


The partnership comes as Samsung prepares to start producing washers next year at its plant in Newberry, SC.  The company says that the facility – a $380 million investment – should have 1,000 employees by 2020.

Selling South Carolina Abroad

Ever wonder how the State of South Carolina sells itself overseas?

SC Connect took a look at the state Department of Agriculture’s efforts at the ANUGA trade show in Cologne recently. Jack Shuler and Clint Leach of the agriculture department spent hours meeting with companies and extolling the virtues of the state. They were in the midst of nearly 100,000  businessmen during the five-day event.

How’s SC Doing?

How’d they do? You can decide for yourself. Take a look at our article, “Growing SC Agribusiness is a Worldwide Endeavor,” in the Winter edition of SCBiz Magazine. Here’s a taste;

South Carolina agriculture representatives contended with more than 100,000 other businessmen to press the case for SC agribusiness this month in Cologne at one of the world’s largest food and beverage trade shows.

“We’re just trying to get people to know South Carolina, get them to know what we have to offer,” said Jack Shuler, director of agribusiness development at the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. Perched on a stool beside him at one of the 7,200 different display booths sat Clint Leach, assistant state agriculture commissioner. South Carolina’s not generally a high-profile state, Shuler said, “but this time they know us.”

To read the entire article, go to page 36 here, in the Winter 2017 issue of SCBiz magazine.

Record Business at Port of Charleston

South Carolina’s Port of Charleston continues record-setting growth in 2017, according to a story this week in the Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston.

Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome predicts continued growth into the new year, driven in part by Samsung, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz. All have plants coming online next year.

Charleston’s closest competitor, the Port of Savannah in Georgia, is also growing. Officials there credit the recent widening of the Panama Canal for their continued success.

World’s Largest Wind Turbine to Be Tested in South Carolina

Clemson University will receive more than $23 million to test the world’s largest wind turbine, the creation of Danish company MHI Vestas, the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper reported.

Testing is expected to occur next year on the turbine, which can power up to 8,000 homes, the paper reported.

The turbine is part of Clemson’s wind -turbine research facility dedicated in late 2013. The 82,000 square foot facility’s mission is to help create the next generation of wind technologies and reduce energy costs.