NEWBERRY — Leslie “Les” Hipp has been serving on Newberry County Council for the past eight years, but his history in Newberry stretches back well before that.
Hipp, born in 1951 to Carol and Doris Hipp, grew up in Newberry, became an Eagle Scout and in 1969 graduated from Newberry High School. Hipp began working for a construction company based in Greenville and that job would lead him to work for VC Summer Nuclear Station, in 1974.
“SCE&G owns and runs it (VC Summer), but the construction company that built VC Summer was out of Greenville at that time. It started out as Daniel Construction Company, than it went to Fluor Daniel, and I actually started with Fluor Daniel,” he said. “SCE&G was looking for some employees with specific skills, and Fluor Daniel HR guy offered up my name and SCE&G hired me.
“I was working there, I guess I had been there six months when I first got promoted to coordinator of Civil Quality Control, and it was at that time they (VC Summer) encouraged me to get my engineering degree and they told me they would work with me and help fund me to do that,” he said.
Hipp was promoted to construction site manager and served as the night shift site manager. This allowed him to go to the University of South Carolina during the day from which he would earn his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering in 1985.
After a short period in design engineering, Hipp was chosen to supervise procurement quality engineering. He was then promoted to the manager of Materials and Procurement in 1988, in 1995 he was selected for and completed a one year full time training course resulting in his certification as a senior reactor operator.
That certification led him to be selected as manager of the Nuclear Protection Services, which included nuclear security, industrial safety, plant facilities and the emergency response plan.
Hipp was actually in this position on Sept. 11, 2001.
“All of a sudden the world changed,” he said. “The security threat level went up at all domestic nuclear power plants. I happened to be outside of the country during 9/11, I was in Canada. Initially I had communications with the plant, then it broke off. Of course I had to get back into the country, and when I got back we were in constant contact with the FBI and Homeland Security.”
Hipp retired from VC Summer in 2014 after 40 years. He said that while he worked at VC Summer there was zero tolerance for error, even though, by design, the plant has independent and redundant backup systems.
Before he retired, Hipp took on the challenge of becoming an elected official. In 2008 he was elected to the District 5 seat on Newberry County Council. Before being elected, Hipp was attending County Council meetings regularly starting in 2005.
“In the process of those couple of years, I saw that Council was not making all the decisions I felt like were best for the community,” he said.
Hipp said in 2007, after the county had failed to comply with some mandatory reassessments, it had significant capital cost overruns and they had purchased the Mid-Carolina Commerce Park. Those situations meant significant debt and put the county in a very dismal financial situation.
Under state law, the county could not borrow a million dollars without a public referendum.
“Taxes had gone up so high that the Opera House could not hold all the people who would show up for County Council meetings in protest,” he said.
So Hipp ran and won, defeating Henry Summer who served in the position for about 20 years.
During his time on Newberry County Council, Hipp has served as the chairman of Economic Development Committee, a role he took because he has an interest in the subject. He thinks economic development is the only way the county will see tax relief for its residents.
“Reducing spending cannot be your long term plan for growth,” he said. “At some point in time you have got to increase revenue, and industry growth is where you do that.”
Hipp said there have been many highlights, which include WestFrasier providing $60 million in capital investment in the community and the expansion of Kiswire.
“One thing I consider the biggest accomplishment was the development of the Mega site, where we got a private land owner option to sell property at agreed upon prices, such that the county was able to go in and get it completely vetted while keeping the ownership of the land in private hands, which means it stays in the tax base,” he said. “We were able to get a huge amount of funding from Duke Power, the SC Department of Commerce and CSX Railway.”
Hipp also added that Mid-Carolina Commerce Park, an unimproved property, was made marketable without raising taxes.
Hipp, a Republican, is now up for re-election because he does not think his job is finished yet.
“I think we have made a lot of progress during these eight years,” he said. “When I look back to the financial condition the county was in eight years ago, compared to now, it gives me satisfaction, but the job is not finished. Taxes are still higher than they should be. There is still less industry here than I would like to see, and while I am one of seven people, and all of our Council works together, I know that I have been effective in doing my job over these eight years.”
Hipp is married to Elizabeth Cousins Hipp, whom he met while attending a party at her mother’s home. Hipp has three step children — William Binnicker, Summers Binnicker and Cullen Binnicker.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @ TheNBOnews.