Foreign flair

A sampling of the Charleston region's internationally based employers:

Belgium

WABCO Compressor, 95 workers

Britain

VT Milcom, 275

Canada

Gildan Activewear, 230

France

Hagemeyer, 150

Germany

Behr Heat Transfer, 375

Greece

Thrace-LINQ, 70

Japan

Asahi Kasei Spandex, 170

Mexico

DAK Americas, 180

Russia

Delfin USA, 170

South Africa

Pegasus Steel, 75

Spain

Giant Cement, 130

Sweden

SKF Aero Bearing, 50

Switzerland

Mediterranean Shipping, 290

Center for Business Research, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce

The cosmopolitan nature of the Charleston region and its economy stands out in a new study.

The Global Cities Initiative report, a joint project of Brookings and JPMorgan Chase, analyzed employment at foreign-owned businesses in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas in 2011.

Charleston, North Charleston and Summerville ranked in the top 10 in a key category. Of all local jobs three years ago, 7.2 percent were at foreign firms, the 9th highest in the nation and handily beating the 5 percent national average.

In terms of the sheer number of workers at those businesses, the Charleston region came in at No. 57 when stacked against the other 99 metro areas, including some that are much bigger, like New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

Nationally, majority-owned U.S. affiliates of foreign companies employed 5.6 million workers in 2011, Brookings found.

The biggest concentration was in Bridgeport, Conn., which is home to an outsize number of overseas-based banking and finance jobs. Next up were Greensboro, N.C., and Worcester, Mass.

"We've long known that metropolitan areas are the engines of the national economy," report co-author and Brookings policy analyst Kenan Fikri said in a statement Friday. "Now we know that they're the country's strongest magnets for global investment as well."

Thanks in part to the Port of Charleston, the tri-country area has long been a draw for international investment, from longtime local employers like the Robert Bosch Corp. of Germany and Japan-based Showa Denko Carbon to more recent arrivals, such as France's Nexans High Voltage near Goose Creek.

The single biggest source of these local jobs was the nation that gave Charles Towne its name back in 1670: England employed 3,700 workers in 2011 at places ranging from defense contractor BAE Systems to the BP petrochemical plant on the Cooper River.

The report shows a sizable jump in foreign investment and employment in the Charleston Metro area over the baseline study period. In 1991, overseas firms accounted for 5.9 percent of all local jobs, but, more significantly, over the next two decades their payrolls swelled by almost 8,000.

Economist Steve Slifer of Daniel Island-based NumberNomics, had not seen the report but said he's not surprised by the increase.

"The result is perhaps a reflection of globalization and its growth around the world," Slifer said Friday. "Having a port here and companies such as Boeing are perhaps making Charleston stand out from other parts of the country."

More investment is coming from abroad and elsewhere.

IFA Rotorion is one example. The German auto parts maker already employs more than 300 workers manufacturing drive shafts in Palmetto Commerce Park in North Charleston. The company now plans to add 125 workers to its payroll and invest $21 million to boost production capacity by one-third to 2 million units over the next few years.

"We have secured a convincing competitive edge here and, therefore, we look to the future with great confidence," Felix von Nathusius, CEO of IFA Rotorion North America, said when the expansion began in the fall.

It's easy to imagine what someone from the nation's most polite city who lands one of those new jobs might say to the new boss: "Danke schoen."

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572