When the world needed to social distance, the Ferraros offered a way to safely separate.
The couple behind Skutchi Designs Inc., a custom cubicle maker in Carolina Forest, found the demand for their products quickly picked up after the early economic challenges of the pandemic.
“I hope it goes away,” said the company’s owner, Jamie Ferraro, of the virus. “But that’s our specialty. [It's] dividers … anything that has to do with dividing an area or making it safe and changing the workflow of how people come in."
Skutchi’s growth boomed long before COVID-19 swept through the country earlier this year, but the new needs of hospitals, schools and other businesses have only added to the pressure to expand. On Tuesday, the S.C. Department of Commerce announced that Skutchi would be adding 41 workers and constructing an 85,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at the Ascott Valley industrial park in western Horry County.
“People are like, ‘Wow, you guys are blessed,’” said Joe Ferraro, Jamie’s husband and the company’s vice president. “It’s scary when you can’t keep up with the orders and they start piling in and piling in and piling in.”
Skutchi offers multiple office products, including interior glass walls, desks, conference room furniture and, of course, anything related to cubicles.
The couple launched the business after spending years working in the used furniture industry. They moved the company from New York to Conway in 2012 and they have been at the Carolina Forest location for five years. Initially, they thought their Gardner Lacy Road office would be their forever home, but they quickly found they needed more space.
Their customers range from one-man offices to schools, colleges, Fortune 500 companies and even hospitals.
In recent months, COVID-19-wary firms have contacted them about partitions. They recently finished a project for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which needed washable laminate walls for waiting rooms.
“We’re able to do projects across the country without ever setting a foot in an office,” Joe Ferraro said. “We have our team of CAD designers that do everything from scratch. And we’ve built out a system … we have installers all over the country that we send our product to and they go and do the job for us.”
The Ferraros said the new facility will allow them to launch some additional product lines. They like the fact that the industrial park sits near the intersection of S.C. 22 and U.S. 701 North, and the rural land is less expensive than property in an urban center.
The couple also said the business climate in Horry County has been a pleasant break from the high taxes and heavy regulations they were accustomed to in New York. They were surprised that state and local governments were willing to offer financial incentives to support their expansion. The state will provide $75,000 in reimbursements for the cost of their facility, and the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC), the county’s industrial arm, will provide $60,000: a $30,000 payment when Skutchi has met half of its hiring and investment goals and another equal sum when all the jobs are filled and the building is finished.
Joe Ferraro credited the EDC and specifically CEO Sandy Davis with making the deal happen.
“She was the driving force to help us,” he said. “I never realized, once you get to a level, that the state wants to help you grow. And that’s how I felt. I felt this was home.”
Joe Ferraro expects the building will take about a year to complete once construction begins, and the he plans to begin hiring around the time the facility is finished. The company will need to fill a variety of positions in inventory management, production and sales. They will also need CNC machine operators.
The company plans to fill the positions over a five-year period. The jobs, which will pay an average wage of $16.39 per hour, will be advertised on scworks.org when they are available.
For the EDC, the commitment is the second the organization has received for Ascott Valley, a former textile mill site that industry recruiters have pitched to companies for years. B&B Crane, a North Carolina-based rigging and crane business, was the first company to announce it would move to the park in 2018.
Davis said another firm also wants to build there, but progress has been delayed because the site still needs some road and utility infrastructure. If everything goes according to plan, that should be done next year. Davis said construction of the businesses can happen at the same time as some of the infrastructure work is completed.
Santee Cooper, the state-run utility, has poured millions into the site, razing the former mill and preparing the property for industry.
"It's been a huge financial burden for them," Davis said. "I just want to see the park come to fruition and them have many industrial customers to fulfill their dream that they had when they first purchased it."
As for the Ferraros, they hope the park is a success, too. And even when the situation with the pandemic changes and a semblance of normalcy returns, they expect their business will still be going strong.
“People need what we have,” Joe Ferraro said. “You can’t really open a business without furniture.”