Hopes rise on baking pies; 80 jobs head to Georgetown

A Charleston pie maker is opening two pie-making operations in Georgetown County, bringing 80 jobs to an area hit hard by the down economy.

Charleston Pie Man, which has sold pies at the Charleston Farmers Market and through the Web, plans to open a bakery in Pawleys Island and a production facility in Georgetown, making a $500,000 investment in the area.

The announcement Wednesday is good news for a county that has been battered by the economy, with hundreds of jobs lost in the past year with the closing of the Arcelor Mittal steel mill and other businesses. The county's jobless rate has improved slightly, settling at 14.6 percent in February, the most recent data available.

"Eighty jobs is wonderful for us," said Wayne Gregory, Georgetown County's economic development director. "That is a huge step in the right direction for us."

Hiring for the 80 jobs, which include bakers and management, already has started, Gregory said. A job fair will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Pawleys Island bakery at 9243 Ocean Highway.

The bakery will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday starting next week. The pie crusts and fillers will be made at the production facility at 130 S. Fraser St. in Georgetown, which is scheduled to open May 1 but will not sell the pies.

"This is designed to put people back to work," said Toby Simmons, the owner of Charleston Pie Man. "I didn't design this company for a machine to make my pies."

This is the first expansion to the area for the company, which closed its Charleston location a few months ago in preparation for the move. Simmons said Georgetown County was the right place to move the company and production, and he wants to work closely with area restaurants, some of which are already customers.

"I just started looking, and this is where we wind up, and it just makes sense for me," he said.

Simmons closed in Charleston after some disagreements with previous investors, then restructured the company and made the move to Georgetown County. He also said that after baking pies for 21 years, he was ready for a change.

"I definitely needed more production, and inside of me, after 21 years, I am kind of tired. I can't do this on my own anymore," Simmons said.

Employees will be trained to make 120 pies a day, he said.

"We have our challenges, but at the same time, we do have our growth," Simmons said. "The good thing about what I'm doing is that my product soothes and makes people happy inside."

The Charleston Pie man specializes in sweet potato pies but offers a variety of fruit and nut pies, which cost about $20 for each five to six inch pie.

With such a need for jobs, Georgetown County's business recruiters have stepped up marketing of the area, aiming to attract entrepreneurs such as Simmons, metal works businesses, wood products companies and aviation companies, feeding off Boeing's planned plant in nearby North Charleston, Gregory said. The bakery jobs will help improve the county's unemployment, with more jobs announcements on the horizon, he said, though he declined to give details.

"It definitely helps make up some of the job losses," Gregory said of the bakery jobs. "We look at this as a turning point for us. Things are definitely improving for us."