It was a family affair Monday in North Charleston.
Weber Automotive will begin hiring for the new plant in 2015. Anyone interested in job opportunities should call Doris Sullivan at 843-875-6366.
Speaking to a crowd gathered in the City Council chamber, Mayor Keith Summey recalled meeting Albert Weber and Weber’s son Daniel around the time the German automotive magnate was buying a huge tract of forest along U.S. Interstate 26 in his city. The mayor remembered the father as “one smooth negotiator.”
Daniel Weber remembers that visit to the Lowcountry, too. Fresh out of high school, he thought his dad was taking him on vacation, but he was actually there to learn a lesson in business negotiation.
The plan then was for Weber Automotive to build its North American headquarters and a manufacturing facility on the former Ingleside Plantation, and Weber was trying to secure the best possible terms from the local government.
Some 15 years, and a couple false starts later, Daniel Weber is now 35 and chief financial officer of his father’s company. Summey’s son, Charleston County Councilman Elliott Summey, is now senior vice president of Weber’s American real estate arm. And a version of that long-awaited factory plan finally is happening.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” the mayor said, adding that it’s “going to be the ignition of a lot of new start-ups.”
“Today, that vision becomes reality,” Weber said.
Weber Automotive will build a new vehicle components manufacturing plant among the other auto factories off the west side of Palmetto Commerce Parkway, the road linked Ladson and Ashley Phosphate roads when it was completed in 2011.
The company’s more than $51 million investment is expected to generate 84 mostly manufacturing jobs over the next four years. The new factory will make drive train components like transmission housing, Weber said, and is expected to begin operations in 2015.
Eric Meyer, president of Weber USA Corp. LLC, the American real estate arm of the company, said the first phase of the project is a 185,000-square-foot facility on 14 acres. But a map of the site shows five more 185,000-square-foot sections. Weber would not offer a timeline for building those units.
“We will see,” he said, adding any growth will be based on business demand. “We wanted to reserve enough land for expansions.”
Weber also wouldn’t say who would receive the parts to be made in North Charleston. The company supplies the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Before any expansion, it will take some work just to get a factory up and connected to the existing roads.
Right now, the factory site is in the middle of the woods, but he S.C. Coordinating Council for Economic Development has approved a set-aside grant of $200,000 for road improvements. Meyer said Weber will cover the rest.
The project also received a variety of other incentives. Weber secured a fee-in-lieu of taxes deal that allows the company to pay a fixed fee for 30 years instead of property taxes. The company will also receive job credits from the state and state-sponsored workforce training.
The Weber plan was previously known by a code name “Project Quality,” a spokeswoman for the Charleston Regional Development Alliance said. That proposal estimated a $56 million investment that would create 98 jobs paying an average of $30,600 each.
Under that deal, which the Charleston County Council approved last summer, the company would qualify for a tax credit totaling no more than $1.6 million over five years to help pay for roads and other infrastructure improvements.
Among Palmetto Commerce’s existing auto businesses are a Daimler AG Sprinter van assembly operation, and a division of Cummins Inc. that churns out turbochargers.
Weber has operations in Auburn Hills, Mich., and in Europe and the Middle East. The company has operated a plant in Summerville since about 1996. It invested $10 million in the facility in 2006 to manufacture crankshafts.
In August 1997, Weber bought the 1,550-acre Ingleside Tract, a prime site with a rail line running through it for $17.9 million. The speculation at the time was that a major automotive factory would follow, but that didn’t happen.
A more recent plan for the acreage above Ashley Phosphate Road called for a $750 million commercial and office project that would take shape over decades. But that ambitious project, a joint venture between Weber and Weiser Cos., never came to pass, doomed by the economic slowdown.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.
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