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Factory workers produce the Volvo S60L at the company’s plant in Chengdu, China. Volvo plans to produce 100,000 cars a year when its new U.S. plant is operational. (Photo/Volvo)

Factory workers produce the Volvo S60L at the company’s plant in Chengdu, China. Volvo plans to produce 100,000 cars a year when its new U.S. plant is operational. (Photo/Volvo)

Originally published in the Post & Courier

May 12 2015 12:01 am

“Whatever good things we build end up building us.”
— Jim Rohn, business philosopher

Plans by Volvo Cars to invest a half billion dollars to build a new production facility in upper Berkeley County is wonderful news. Local and state leaders were on the same page, passionate about South Carolina, her people, and her resources. The announcement means more than just jobs for the Lowcountry.Volvo is projected to employ at least 4,000 people within a decade. In addition to the manufacturing facility, a visitor center and administrative offices are planned on a campus of about 900 acres. Meanwhile, more than 1,500 acres of nearby wetlands and other environmentally sensitive places will be permanently protected.Manufacturing is on the rebound in the Southeast. Enticed by comparatively low taxes and a young, tech-savvy, non-unionized workforce, Volvo joins BMW, Boeing, Bridgestone, Continental, Daimler, Honda, Giti Tire, and Michelin among the transportation-related companies that call South Carolina home. These are well-paid, highly sought and highly skilled positions.

When BMW announced it would build a manufacturing facility in Greer in the early 1990s, the company projected it would provide about 2,000 jobs. Today 8,000 people build world-class vehicles there. Because automobiles are such complex machines, auto manufacturers are particularly dependent upon outside suppliers, which translates to new spinoff jobs. Counting spinoffs, an estimated 30,000 jobs across South Carolina are supported by BMW.

With so much positive economic news coming out of the Lowcountry in recent years — a reenergized and bustling port, Boeing’s successes, Charleston’s recognition as a must-see vacation destination — it could be easy to overlook the significance of Volvo’s announcement. However, just as BMW did, Volvo will benefit more than those people living in the immediate area.

Volvo required a site within 50 miles of a major airport and seaport and direct access to an interstate. The I-26 Exit 187 at US 27/Ridgeville Road checks all those boxes. The site is within the Charleston metro area yet distant enough from the city that downtown traffic flow should not be significantly impacted.

That distance from downtown brings another important benefit. Folks in rural Berkeley, Dorchester, and Orangeburg counties — residents of towns like Moncks Corner, St. Stephen, St. George, Holly Hill, Branchville — they may be the real winners. The facility will be situated as close to these communities as to downtown Charleston. And while Charleston has the lowest unemployment in the state, in these communities the economic picture is quite different. Up the road in Orangeburg County, the unemployment rate is twice that of Charleston.

Just as many South Carolinians will benefit from the project, there are many to thank for it. The local conservation community worked with state and local agencies to expedite permitting and to develop an environmental mitigation plan. Gov. Nikki Haley, Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler, Department of Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, and leaders at the Ports Authority, Santee Cooper, Palmetto Railways, the Department of Natural Resources and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance worked together to show a world-class automotive company why the Lowcountry is a world-class place to do business.

Volvo is a great fit for the Lowcountry. Its values are South Carolina’s values: Family first (the Volvo name is synonymous with safety, having been founded in 1927 following the death of the wife of one of its founders in an auto accident), resiliency (the founders’ goal was to build a vehicle that could withstand Sweden’s rough roads and brutal climate), and boldness (“Vision 2020”’ is Volvo’s plan that no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by the year 2020).

As part of its move to transform into a truly global carmaker, Volvo plans a complete renewal of its vehicle lineup over the next four years. That Volvo chose to partner with Berkeley County to help bring about this transformation is a testament to its confidence in the people of South Carolina. Volvo has high standards and expectations, and South Carolina is more than capable of meeting them.

Larry Grooms, a Republican, represents District 37 (parts of Berkeley and Charleston counties) in the state Senate. He is a small business owner.