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By Elise Franco, GoUpstate
When BMW Manufacturing Co. moved into Spartanburg County in 1994, it was a 600-person operation. Now, it’s the leading automotive exporter in the United States.
It’s the plant’s ability to bring international manufacturing companies to the Upstate as suppliers that have made Spartanburg and South Carolina a hub of the automotive industry, said Joey Von Nessen, research economist with the University of South Carolina.
“BMW has an enormous multiplier effect on South Carolina in terms of its ability to scale up employment because of the well-developed automotive supply chain that’s cropped up around (the
plant,)” he said. “That allows it to have access to these global markets and tap into that global demand that leads to additional economic activity within the state.”
The Spartanburg plant exported 272,346 BMW X models last year, nearly 87 percent of which were shipped through the Port of Charleston with an export value of approximately $8.76 billion, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
BMW of North America said that proves the South Carolina factory is the leading U.S. automotive exporter by value.
Erin Dhand, a Ports Authority spokeswoman, said BMW is the largest user of the authority’s Columbus Street Terminal in Charleston. The port handled nearly 235,000 finished vehicles in 2017, Dhand said.
The remaining 13 percent of BMW X models were exported through five other ports in Georgia and Florida. Plant Spartanburg, as company officials call it, produces the BMW X3, X4, X5 and X6 sports activity vehicles and coupes. Pre-production of the BMW X7, which will debut in late 2018, has already begun.
Von Nessen said the plant’s dedication to investing in the Upstate and its ability to adapt to a changing market will ensure it remains a top player for years.
“It’s a company that’s had consistent growth over time since it arrived. We see it responding to changes in market demand and introducing new technology into their vehicles,” he said. “They’re very much a player in the worldwide market, and what we’re seeing in terms of a leader in export-oriented manufacturing isn’t likely to change any time soon.”
Spartanburg County Councilman David Britt has worked closely with BMW since the plant announced its intent to build here in 1992, and he said he’s not at all surprised that BMW Manufacturing has become the country’s top automotive exporter.
“BMW sets the bar, not just for everyone in South Carolina, but everyone in the United States,” he said. “They’re one of the most remarkable companies I’ve worked with, always under-promising and over-delivering. They have been the best corporate citizen anyone could ask for.”
Britt said the production plant put Spartanburg and the Upstate on the map as a hub for global manufacturing opportunity over the last 25 years.
“What started out as a $420 million investment, has blossomed into a multibillion-dollar investment that has forever changed South Carolina, the southeast and the U.S.,” he said. “They made us believe that we weren’t just a textile and manufacturing region, as we’re now an international manufacturing mecca.”
He added: “We’ve got 125 international companies in Spartanburg, and they’re not all tied to BMW, but (the production plant) has raised the flag so high that the world could see Spartanburg as a place to build and do business.”
Steve Wilson, a BMW Manufacturing spokesman in Greer, said the plant’s continued success is thanks, in part, to its partners. Wilson said the Inland Port in Greer, built in 2013 to import and export containers of cargo, has proven crucial to the plant’s productivity. The Inland Port is also under the auspices of the S.C. Ports Authority.
“The S.C. Ports Authority has been a vital partner in order to export our X models to global customers. As our model portfolio has expanded, the port has grown with us and provided some unique solutions,” he said.
Dhand said the more successful the production plant is, the more the Port of Charleston and Inland Port will grow, making the partnership invaluable.
"(BMW) generates both import volumes — rubber, tires and components used in the manufacturing process — and exports,” she said. “The port plays an important role in the international supply chains of companies like BMW, and their growth and success is directly tied to growth of the port.”