BMW played a key role in getting Volvo to choose South Carolina as the location for its U.S. plant.
“The first company to help Volvo was BMW,” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley told me. The other company that lobbied for the state was aerospace giant Boeing.
“Both of them offered everything they could do to help Volvo,” Haley said. “They are the unsung heroes that people don’t always talk about.”
Last month Volvo broke ground on its $500 million (440 million euro) factory near Ridgeville, S.C., where it will start making S60 sedans in 2018. Like BMW in mid-1990s, Volvo plans to start small with an initial annual production of 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles at a plant that eventually will have capacity to make 100,000.
BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, currently is poised to pass Dingolfing, Germany, as the highest capacity plant in the company's global network with annual output forecast to rise to 450,000.
The Spartanburg plant will definitely pass Dingolfing, Haley said. “I like to call us the BMW capital of the world. I don’t know if they [BMW] actually want to hear that, but we are proud to be such a large part of their business profile.”
Haley said South Carolina has supported BMW’s decades of growth with a forward-thinking philosophy that will be extended to Volvo: “How do we get them not just to the point of cutting a ribbon but to their next expansion?” Haley explained.
She also is working on infrastructure changes that will benefit Volvo, such as a new highway interchange close to the factory.
“It is something that was done for BMW and it will be done for Volvo,” she said. “People may not quite know where Volvo is now, but when we get done it will be the Volvo entrance and the Volvo exit.”
Another big improvement that Haley plans is to deepen the Port of Charleston to 52 feet (15.8 meters) from 45 feet. The move would make it possible for larger container ships to transport goods to and from the state, which she said is No. 1 in the U.S. for automobile and tire exports. South Carolina has 250 automotive businesses and they have a $27 billion economic impact on the state.
Haley, 43, is a trained accountant who grew up in a small family business where the she said that she learned the importance of identifying a customer’s concerns and challenges and finding ways to remove all those barriers.
“I work for each one of these automakers. Every CEO has my cell number. If anything happens they call me directly and my job is to fix it,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure we give them a strong, trained labor force, a good business climate to work in, no regulations and if in any way the unions come and knock on their door, I will kick them out.”