Volvo chose South Carolina to build its first U.S. auto plant because the state offered the best workforce and employee training, state and company officials said Monday.
Among the incentives offered to bring the Swedish automaker to Berkeley County was training through South Carolina's technical colleges for the plant's expected 4,000 workers.
South Carolina has offered similar job and recruitment training for other industrial projects, including the Boeing jet manufacturing plant in North Charleston and the Continental Tire factory in Sumter. The program, known as readySC, trained 4,700 workers last year.
South Carolina sold Volvo on a customized employee-training program, Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday, and “the rest of it was all gravy.”
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Volvo also spoke with other companies already in the state about South Carolina's workforce and business climate, S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said.
In part due to the good words spread by those companies, S.C. workers ended up helping the state win the $500 million Volvo plant, which will open in 2018 and produce 100,000 cars a year, Haley said.
“What I believe won Volvo cars in South Carolina was our workforce,” Haley said. “Because they saw the fact that is a state where (we) build planes, we now have three car companies, we now have five tire companies. ... So what they knew was if we build it, we build it well. And we build it with quality. And we build it with loyalty. And we build it with pride. And that’s something you just can’t find anywhere.”
Construction on Volvo's plant will start this fall at the old Camp Hall timber plantation, off Interstate 26 near Ridgeville. The site is about 40 miles northwest of downtown Charleston and about 30 miles from the Port of Charleston.
Volvo won’t discuss why it chose Berkeley County over a site near Savannah in Georgia, the other finalist for the plant, company spokesman Jim Nichols said.
Instead, Nichols said South Carolina won the plant because of the site’s access to an international port and the state’s entrepreneurial spirit as well as its experience with two other auto manufacturing plants, BMW and Mercedes Benz.
“The state has experience with premium auto brands,” Nichols said.
S.C. workers, especially those in the Lowcountry, have developed skills in automotive and high-tech industries, he said.
In North Charleston, Mercedes Benz is building a $500 million van plant, about 20 miles away from the Volvo site. Meanwhile, Boeing operates a 7,600-employee jet-making plant about 30 miles away.
The company did not release details on what it will pay or the skills needed to work at the plant. However, Volvo expects to draw employees from a 50- to 75-mile radius around the new plant, the head of the automaker's North American operations told The (Charleston) Post and Courier.
Volvo could employ up to 2,000 workers in the decade after the plant opens and another 2,000 by 2030, the S.C. Commerce Department said. The state already has 46,000 automotive-industry workers, including those who work at hundreds of suppliers, according to the S.C. Automotive Council.
The exact models that Volvo will build in South Carolina were not announced. But the company usually makes two models of vehicles at its four European and Chinese plants, Nichols said.
Volvo is receiving at least $209 million in incentives from the state and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility.
More manufacturing work could be coming to 6,800-acre Camp Hall site.
Volvo will use about a third of that site, Hitt said. Auto analysts suspect the Berkeley County location could attract another manufacturing plant operated by Volvo’s parent company, the Chinese-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group.
But Hitt and Haley did not have any word about other projects at the site, including whether Volvo would move its North American headquarters from New Jersey.
“With every company that comes, whether it’s tires or planes, you always have the second conversation,” Haley said. “But, right now, we started with this first conversation.”
Nichols said any talk of additional projects was speculation at this point. However, he added, the company wanted a site with space available to expand. “This is a very long-term investment.”
Volvo will become the third European automaker to locate in South Carolina as the state has worked to build up its auto sector.
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. The state has more than 250 automotive-related companies. BMW’s plant site also has become a tourist destination with a driving course.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz said in March that it will add 1,300 job at its North Charleston Sprinter van assembly plant. The company already has a decade-old facility on the site that reassembles Sprinters made in Germany.
Hitt, a former BMW executive, Monday praised the other states that competed to win the Volvo plant, including ed Georgia and North Carolina. But, he added: “The outcome for South Carolina today is: We won.”
S.C. and Volvo
A look at Volvo’s plans for its S.C. plant, formally announced Monday
4,000: Expected number of jobs by 2030
$500 million: Cost of the plant
$209 million: Announced state and local incentives for the plant
2018: Year that production should start
100,000: Number of vehicles produced annually
3: Vehicle manufacturers in South Carolina
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