The Buzz

EXCLUSIVE: Volvo speeding toward SC, state lawmakers say

Volvo soon could drive into South Carolina with a manufacturing plant, likely in the Charleston area, four state legislators told The State on Wednesday.

South Carolina is a finalist for a Volvo plant, which would join BMW as a major automaker in the Palmetto State, the lawmakers said. North Carolina and Kentucky also are pursuing the Swedish carmaker’s plant, according to media reports.

Gov. Nikki Haley returned Wednesday from a four-day economic-development trip to an undisclosed location with state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.

Her office declined comment Wednesday. The state Commerce Department does not comment on economic-development projects.

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State Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Charleston Republican who heads the S.C. House’s transportation budget panel, said Wednesday that he has received requests for money for road projects and workforce training tied to a potential Volvo plant in Berkeley County.

House budget writers included $35 million for a Charleston-area workforce training center in a $500 million bond proposal that they recently passed.

“We didn’t just do that for our health,” Limehouse said. “We’re setting the table.”

In a House budget briefing Wednesday, state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, said Volvo could be among several large companies taking advantage of the Charleston-area workforce training center.

After that briefing, Merrill said he did not have official details. But, he added, “We’re very hopeful that we (will) have an announcement soon.”

State Sen. Paul Campbell, a Berkeley Republican who helped broker the deal that brought the Boeing jet plant to North Charleston, said, “Volvo is giving South Carolina serious consideration.”

A fourth state lawmaker familiar with the talks, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, confirmed South Carolina is a finalist for a Volvo plant in the Charleston area.

Volvo, now owned by Chinese-based Geely Holdings, had no comment when asked about the plant this week.

The Financial Times, citing two people familiar with the project, reported in January that Volvo has sought incentive packages – usually made up of millions of dollars in tax breaks, land giveaways, roads and water lines – from South Carolina, North Carolina and Kentucky.

Volvo is not the only foreign carmaker reportedly checking out South Carolina.

Jaguar Land Rover is also considering the state for a plant, according to several trade industry news reports. A company spokesman said the British automaker, which received a visit from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in January, is looking worldwide for plant sites.

Foreign carmakers have found homes for new plants in the South over the past two decades.

BMW opened in Greer in 1994 and now employs about 8,000. Mercedes-Benz opened a plant in Vance, Ala., in 1997, and employs about 3,500.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia have plants in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas.

The Charleston area is set to land more automotive-related work later this week.

Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler, will announce plans to expand a van assembly facility with more than 1,000 added jobs in Ladson, Limehouse said.