Grapevine: Charleston's flourishing tourism industry paves way for Rolls-Royce dealership

  • Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014 12:01 a.m., Updated: Monday, June 30, 2014 7:55 a.m.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price for the Rolls-Royce Phantom is about $475,000.

Charleston's strong tourism market helped seal the deal with Rolls-Royce Motor Cars that was announced last week, said Tommy Baker, owner of Baker Motor Co.

Baker's West Ashley automotive compound soon will be one of 39 official U.S. dealers of the storied brand, and will be the single dealer of the vehicles for South Carolina and portions of North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.

Baker said Rolls-Royce chose to partner with his dealership because it's already a regional destination for many other high-end nameplates, including Mercedes-Benz, Maserati and Porsche, among others. "There are not many dealerships that have what we have in one location," Baker said.

He added that there is a growing demand for luxury vehicles because the high-end tourism market in Charleston has brought in wealthy car enthusiasts.

"Conde Nast rating us the number one destination in the world . it's all part of it," he said. "It's a destination place, and money is coming to Charleston. People that have money want these types of automobiles, and it's a great experience for them."

The first shipment of Rolls-Royce cars could arrive at the dealership in early July, according to a statement. Baker said his goal is to sell at least one per month.

Ups and downs


The state's manufacturing industry landed another big fish this month in the form of Giti Tires, which recently said it picked Chester County for a $560 million plant that could employ 1,700 workers.

But a couple of Charleston area employers provide the sobering flipside.

Heavy equipment giant Caterpillar had marked June 2014 as the month it would close its 280-worker factory off Jedburg Road after a "strategic review" of the Summerville business, which rebuilt transmissions. Cat said it decided to close the unit after some customers defected to other suppliers.

Another blow to the local manufacturing belt will hit home this week, when General Dynamics will lay off a big slug of its workforce at the former Force Protection armored vehicle plant on Highway 78. About 150 job cuts are scheduled to take effect by Tuesday, according to a labor filing. The company blamed the cuts on reduced defense spending and the loss of a contract.

By December, mine-resistant vehicles under names like Buffalo and Cougar will no longer be made at the plant. General Dynamics, which bought Force Protection in late 2011, will keep about 50 workers to supply spare parts and offer field support. Another firm, Pegasus Steel, has announced plans to start making Cougars at the factory and rehire as many displaced workers as possible.

On the move - again


The North Charleston office of the organization tasked with helping entrepreneurs find their way is seeking some help of its own.

The S.C. Small Business Development Center is looking for a new home after having to move for the second time in the past three years.The office operates under the umbrella of the U.S. Small Business Administration, offering counseling and other help to small employers.

The center's space in the First Federal Corporate Center at 2430 Mall Drive expires at the end of the year. First Federal's new owner has plans to use the space. Ideally, officials said they would like to remain in North Charleston

The prospect of moving is a case of deja vu for the Small Business Development Center. It said it moved to the First Federal campus in January 2012 under similar circumstances.

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