U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made a stop in Spartanburg County on Monday, promoting a "new chapter" in economic relations between South Carolina and Germany.
Graham spoke before a crowd of about 100 Upstate business officials at DAA Draexlmaier Automotive of America LLC in Duncan during an event celebrating the appointment of Vincenc Pearson as the new state director of the Atlanta-based German-American Chamber of Commerce South.
Pearson, who serves as corporate counsel for Draexlmaier, the North American subsidiary of Germany-based Dräxlmaier Group, will head up the chamber's efforts to expand its footprint in South Carolina.
"I have a great affection and appreciation for the relationship between our two countries," said Graham, 58, who hopes to secure his bid for a third term in November. "When you look at how the relationship (in South Carolina) has expanded, it's remarkable."
The Republican senator is a former U.S. Air Force lawyer who spent more than four years at Rhein-Main Air Force Base near Frankfurt, Germany, while on active duty during the 1980s.
He applauded companies with German roots operating in South Carolina. In particular, Graham praised automaker BMW's decision to build a production plant in Spartanburg County as a game changer for South Carolina.
"I just can't thank our German friends enough," Graham said.
More than 2.5 million cars have been built at BMW Manufacturing Co. since it opened in 1994. The plant is served by 170 suppliers across North America, including 40 companies in this state, according to the corporation's website.
An economic impact study from 2012 indicated the facility represents a more than $6 billion impact that provides jobs for 7,000 employees onsite and supports another 31,000 jobs across the state.
"BMW is a story worth telling over and over again," Graham said. "We want to build on this."
Graham said he will continue to fight for federal immigration reform so German engineers can come to South Carolina and work and vice versa "without any problems."
"We want to have the best workforce in South Carolina," he said. "I want to be the solution, not the problem. Democrats and Republicans must work together."
The South Carolina chapter of the German-American chamber will be tasked with providing a networking platform for businesses and individuals that are involved or interested in developing trade ties between the state and Germany.
"Vincenc is a great choice for the new chapter director," Martina Stellmaszek, president and CEO of the chamber, said in a statement. "He is very much involved and understands the needs of the German-American business community in South Carolina."
Thomas Wulfing, consul general of Germany, lauded the "spirit of development" between his home country and the U.S. The chamber's roots go back to 1978. Today, it serves 13 states and, including the new South Carolina chapter, operates chapters in five Southern states.
"We're expanding our scope and watering the roots that have been growing for the last 20 years," Pearson said.
Carter Smith, executive vice president of the Spartanburg County Economic Futures Group, said the chamber helped two new companies land in the county in 2013 — Lindoerfer + Steiner GmbH and Heiche. The announcements netted $4.4 million in new investment and will create 70 jobs.
"We have a close relationship with (the chamber)," Smith said. "The economy is getting better, and I think the organization, like other organizations driven by membership, is experiencing new growth. We're excited to have Vince take up that mantle here and look forward to future growth."
The South Carolina chapter of GACC South will operate out of Draexlmaier's North American headquarters and production plant at 1751 E. Main St. in Duncan.
For more information, visit www.gaccsouth.com.