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SC wants to court more business headquarters, but another just slipped away...sorta

Kemet HQ (copy) (copy) (copy)

Kemet Corp. has moved its headquarters to south Florida from South Carolina. File/Provided

The S.C. Commerce Department released a video on YouTube this month pitching the state as an ideal location for corporate headquarters.

“Simply put, South Carolina is ‘Just Right,’” the narrator says. 

Perhaps not quite right enough for one longtime manufacturer that had called the Palmetto State home for years until deciding to take its corporate offices south. To south Florida.

Kemet Corp. showed off its new Fort Lauderdale digs to investors by holding its annual meeting in “Kemet Tower” over the summer. In previous years, shareholders met either at the company's Simpsonville campus or in various venues in nearby Greenville.

Kemet has said the $3.6 million move included its finance, sales, marketing and technology departments.

The company is a leading but low-key multinational manufacturer with deep roots in South Carolina. CEO Per Loof described the electronic capacitors that Kemet churns out by the billions as "passive parts" that happen to be in extremely high demand, as they go into everything from smartphones to cameras to automobiles.

"Without this little piece that costs half a penny a Mercedes 500-S won't run," Loof said.  

Kemet, which is preparing to mark its 100th anniversary next year, emerged from Union Carbide's 1919 acquisition of an Ohio business that had developed an alloy for vacuum tubes. As transistors came into vogue, the company switched its focus to capacitors in the late 1950s and never looked back. 

Kemet's been part of the South Carolina industrial landscape since 1963, when it opened the first of three manufacturing plants in the state.

Union Carbide eventually sold the business. After Kemet went public in 1992, it began scaling back its U.S. presence while adding heft overseas. Among the casualties were two factories in Mauldin and Greenwood.

And now, most of the C-suite is gone as well, though the Simpsonville manufacturing plant and research campus remain. 

No city or state wants to see the top decision-makers at a company leave. The presence of an established corporate base camp can serve as a calling card for other employers and generate business travel.

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In this instance, South Carolina had little chance at keeping Kemet's headquarters.

Loof, for starters, has been been a south Florida resident and civic leader for nearly two decades. He's also been running Kemet from the Sunshine State since he came aboard as CEO in 2005.

“We’re having a beautiful day in Florida," he said as he signed off from his latest quarterly earnings call with analysts.

The formal relocation was purely pragmatic and wasn't meant as a slight, Loof said last week. He called the Greenville area "a fabulous place," and noted that the company's 500-worker Upstate campus is home to two of company's four main business units and half of his eight-person management staff. 

"Our commitment to South Carolina is not really diminished at all," Loof said.

Kemet decided to make the move partly because it has evolved into a global company with changing needs. Most of its operations are overseas, in Asia and Latin America.

"Traveling is sort of part of the deal here, as you can imagine," Loof said Wednesday by phone from the Netherlands. "Having access to at least two really international airports, that is really a benefit." 

Also, he said, South Florida is home to about 7 million residents compared to less than a million in the greater Greenville area, making it an easier place to recruit a multilingual workforce.

"We needed a place where we tap a bigger resource pool," Loof said.

The loss of the Kemet headquarters brings to 19 the number of publicly traded firms that use a Palmetto State address on their company letterhead.

That figure could drop to 18 if the proposed buyout of SCE&G parent SCANA Corp. to Dominion Energy of Richmond, Va., passes regulatory muster.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott

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