BMW's $1 billion Upstate expansion is expected to deliver hundreds of jobs, a brand new vehicle and a jolt to the growing export business at the Port of Charleston.
By the numbers
$27.1 billion: Annual economic impact of the auto industry in South Carolina.
$6.3 billion: Investments BMW has made in Greer.
2.5 million: Vehicles BMW has made in Greer since opening in Sept. 1994.
250: Automotive-related companies in South Carolina.
Source: BMW; S.C. Governor's Office.
The luxury carmaker said Friday it will expand production and create 800 more jobs at its Spartanburg County campus by adding the new X7 crossover model to its lineup of South Carolina-made vehicles.
BMW's local impact
Port of Charleston is used for 70-75% of all exports from BMW's Greer plant.
BMW primarily uses the State Ports Authority's Columbus St. Terminal, which exports about 200,000 SUVs a year.
Wando Welch Terminal is SPA's primary facility for handling BMW's imported materials.
Wando Welch is used to export as many as 2,000 BMWs a year in containers that are sent to South America.
BMW is the SPA's top port user in terms of dollar value of cargo. In terms of weight, BMW accounts for 92% of non-containerized exports.
Source: State Ports Authority
The Greer plant already employs about 7,000 workers, according to officials said.
The expansion will increase annual production to about 450,000 vehicles from roughly 300,000 now. That would make the Greer factory the busiest within BMW when X7 production begins by the end of 2016, state officials said.
"We love Germany. But South Carolina is now the BMW capital of the world," Gov. Nikki Haley said at a ceremony to mark the investment and recognize the German automaker's commitment to the state.
The X7 project will drive more business to the Columbus Street Terminal in Charleston, where BMW exports about 70 percent of its Upstate-made vehicles to more than 100 overseas destinations. The expansion is expected to increase BMW's outbound shipments by 40 percent.
"That should rightly say there will be more exports," said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority. "If the same patterns hold true, that will allude to some kind of additional containerships as far as raw materials like engines and transmissions."
BMW ships most of its export vehicles to Charleston by rail. Newsome said the Columbus Street Terminal could see about 90,000 more vehicles come its way, meaning more frequent ship calls.
"The infrastructure is able to handle the growth," he said.
BMW's growth also will likely boost the container business at the Wando Welch Terminal, which handles most imported car parts and other automotive materials for BMW and other manufacturers.
The Upstate expansion is a win-win for local maritime workers, said Billy Adams Jr., executive director of the Stevedores Association. Longshoremen, for example, load all exported BMWs.
"It will mean an economic boost for the area, especially for the longshoremen seeing more work hours added," he said.
Ken Riley, president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 in Charleston, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
BMW opened the Greer plant 20 years ago this fall. The Munich-based company has already invested $6.3 billion into its Upstate campus.
"There is no doubt. Our decision to come to South Carolina was the right one," BMW chief executive Norbert Reithofer said Friday.
The South Carolina plant now makes the X3, X4, X5 and X6 sport utility vehicles. The X7 will be larger than the other models and accommodate up to seven passengers in three rows of seating. It will be the largest SUV that BMW has ever made.
The X7 expansion works out to $1.25 million for each new job associated with it.
Rob Martinez, vice president of business development at Norfolk Southern, which hauls BMW's SUVs from the Upstate to Charleston, acknowledged the big investment while speaking at a transportation conference at the College of Charleston School of Business on Friday.
"When you land a prize like BMW, it's the gift that keeps on giving," Martinez said.
Newsome of the SPA said his agency will be prepared to handle more of BMW's business if it continues to grow.
"We have certainly got to look at more additional capacity for our non-container business, and that will not happen now because we have significant capacity on the Columbus Street Terminal and we manage it well," he said. "But we clearly want to be in this business segment, and this probably will not be the last time BMW will increase production."
BMW was one of the early foreign automakers to build an assembly plant in the largely nonunionized American South. When adjusted for inflation, South Carolina gave BMW more than $325 million in incentives to come to the Palmetto State in 1992, beating out a site the company was considering in Nebraska.
Mercedes-Benz followed with a factory in Alabama a year later. Over the past two decades, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen have all added plants in rural Southern locations.
The Associated Press and John McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this story.