COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt will be in Germany next week to recruit jobs at the world’s biggest show for the automotive industry, the head of South Carolina’s economic development agency said Friday.
Hitt said he and Haley will leave Monday for the 65th International Motor Show in Frankfurt, Germany. It’s the first time a South Carolina governor has attended the biennial event. The delegation will return Friday, he said.
“The purpose is continuing to recruit heavily in the auto sector,” Hitt said.
Since January 2011, when Haley took office, Commerce has announced 46 projects by 35 companies in the industry. That includes two expansions, totaling a $1 billion planned investment, announced by BMW Manufacturing Co., the German automaker that spurred South Carolina’s auto industry after locating in the Upstate 20 years ago.
More than 250 automakers and their suppliers now call South Carolina home, Hitt said.
He said he doesn’t expect to return from the show with a jobs announcement. The trip is about establishing relationships with prospective new companies and meeting face-to-face with executives of companies already in the state, he said, noting about two-thirds of announced growth since he took the agency’s helm has been from existing companies.
Four other state employees are attending the auto show: Commerce’s director of global business development, two project managers, and the governor’s assistant. More than 50 meetings are pre-arranged, Hitt said. He expects more to be scheduled after he gets there and reconnects with industry contacts.
The first meeting Tuesday will be with executives of BMW, which employees more than 7,000 people and contracts with 40 suppliers in South Carolina. Hitt was BMW’s spokesman for 18 years before becoming Commerce chief in 2011.
In July, BMW announced a change in leadership at its South Carolina plant, effective in November. The show gives Haley a chance to meet new executives, Hitt said.
“This is the royalty of the automotive industry. CEOs like to meet with CEOs,” he said about the importance of Haley’s attendance. “It’s important to have those personal relationships.”
Hitt said now is the time to recruit in the auto industry, as it bounces back from sales that slumped during the economic downtown and could soon exceed 2007 levels. The agency expects to spend less than $100,000 on the trip.
Neither Haley nor Hitt attended an international air show in Paris in June. Hitt said her presence there wasn’t necessary because she’s already met executives of companies they were trying to recruit.
Haley was criticized for attending the Paris Air Show in June 2011. Commerce’s $160,000 spending on that trip included expensive hotel rooms and, for the first time, renting a chalet for events. That trip extended to Munich, where officials toured BMW headquarters. Critics called it a taxpayer-funded junket and vacation. Haley’s husband, who also attended, months later reimbursed the state $1,440 for his costs.