The Buzz

Volvo driving to SC, passes on Georgia

2016 Volvo VX90
2016 Volvo VX90

South Carolina appears to have won its second auto plant.

Georgia officials learned Friday that Volvo did not choose the Peach State – the other finalist for the Swedish carmaker’s first U.S. plant, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Volvo winnowed its choices to two sites about 125 miles apart, near Charleston and Savannah. Governors from both states flew to the carmaker’s North American headquarters in New Jersey last week to make final pitches.

But Volvo has taken a pass on the Savannah site, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Instead, the carmaker decided to build its $500 million plant on a Berkeley County timber plantation off Interstate 26, nearly 40 miles northwest of Charleston. The plant could employ up to 4,000 workers over the next decade, according to an environmental permit.

South Carolina is ready to borrow up to $120 million for incentives to lure the automaker through economic-development bonds, according to the Treasurer’s Office.

The S.C. Commerce Department also can offer industrial prospects an array of incentives, including money from a deal-closing fund that was given $45 million by legislators this fiscal year.

The state also could tap into another pot of money for site improvements or offer tax credits for jobs created, including rebates of a portion of new employees’ state income taxes.

Volvo would become the second European automaker to locate in South Carolina.

BMW opened its first U.S. plant in Greer in 1994, transforming South Carolina’s economic culture.

The Upstate plant now employs more than 8,000 and has attracted thousands of additional jobs at its suppliers. BMW’s plant site also has become a tourist destination with a driving course.

The first phase of the Volvo plant would cover 575 acres near Ridgeville with another 322 acres set aside for expansion, according to an environmental permit.

No S.C. sources would confirm Friday that Volvo formally had chosen the Palmetto State for the plant.

The S.C. Commerce Department does not comment on economic development projects, spokeswoman Allison Skipper said.

However, several sources close to the deal said Friday they had been hearing good things about South Carolina’s prospects.

Two S.C. sources, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the deal, said they expected formal notification Sunday and, one said, a news release Monday.

In early March, S.C. lawmakers said the state was a finalist for the Volvo plant.

Volvo, owned by the Chinese company Geely, announced March 30 it had a short list of sites it was considering to build a U.S. manufacturing facility.

In mid-April, Berkeley County applied for a permit to fill wetlands and clear land for a manufacturing operation expected to employ 4,000 workers within a decade.

State Commerce Department officials also met with conservationists in April, trying to work out a deal to expedite development of the site. That deal reportedly would include an agreement to preserve endangered wetlands elsewhere in the state.

The race to win Volvo accelerated nearly two weeks ago when Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt flew to New Jersey, the site of the carmaker’s North American headquarters.

In early March, state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said he had received requests for money for road projects and workforce training tied to a potential Volvo plant in Berkeley County.

At the same time, state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, said in a public meeting that Volvo could be among several large companies taking advantage of a Charleston-area workforce training center.

That training center was set to receive $35 million in a $500 million bond proposal, sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White. However, that package eventually failed in March, in part due to opposition from Republican Haley.

But last month, S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, passed a $237 million borrowing proposal out of his Senate Finance Committee that included $17.5 million for the training center.

A draft of that borrowing plan had included a portion of $125 million in economic-development incentives requested by Commerce Secretary Hitt, Leatherman said. But Leatherman said he took that money out of the plan after Haley told lawmakers she could meet promised economic-development obligations without money from a bond bill.

Instead, Haley could use economic-development bonds, which require approval from 10 legislators, including White and Leatherman, and the Budget and Control Board but not the General Assembly.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

Volvo’s S.C. plant

South Carolina appears to have beaten out Georgia for automaker Volvo’s first U.S. plant. Some details of the deal:

Estimated plant cost: $500 million

Projected employment: 4,000; 2,000 initially and another 2,000 within a decade

Location: Camp Hall Plantation, off Interstate 26, near Ridgeville in Berkeley County, about 40 miles northwest of Charleston.

Site size: 575 acres for a first phase and another 322 acres for expansion

State incentives: Borrow up to $120 million in economic-development bonds as well as job-creation tax credits and money for site improvements The state also has a deal-closing fund that had $45 million on July 1.

Opening date: Not announced

SOURCES: Staff research

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