BMW growing again: $900 million expansion includes 300 jobs

One of the 2 million vehicles produced in the BMW manufacturing facility in Greer is shown Thursday. BMW said it will add 300 new jobs at its South Carolina plant and make a $900 million investment to expand the site over the next three years, continuing a recent trend of automakers boosting their U.S. operations to help meet growing global demand

COLUMBIA — German luxury automaker BMW is adding 300 new jobs at its Upstate plant and investing $900 million to expand the site over the next three years.

Company officials said Thursday the move will ramp up production at the plant to at least 300,000 cars this year and introduce a new X4 model.

The growth of the carmaker’s operation in Greer should translate into more business for the maritime industry in Charleston. BMW transports most of its South Carolina-assembled vehicles to the State Ports Authority’s Columbus Street Terminal, where they are loaded onto huge ships for delivery overseas.

SPA spokeswoman Allison Skipper said the Port of Charleston is well-positioned to accommodate any extra demand following $23 million of improvements at the terminal.

BMW exports roughly 7 out of every 10 vehicles it produces in the Upstate.

At an event held at the plant Thursday, the company also celebrated the milestone of 2 million vehicles rolling off its lines since the factory opened in 1994.

“This site is an essential pillar of our international production,” said Frank-Peter Arndt, a BMW board member who spoke during a webcast of the celebration.

Arndt said the move is in response to “the rising global demand for our BMW X models.”

He thanked the South Carolina workers at the plant, and said they had helped the company buck the problems of the current economic downturn. They helped BMW turn aside predictions from others in the automotive industry that the company was making a mistake by investing in the state.

“The ultimate driving machine didn’t follow the crowd,” Arndt said. “We moved in to stay.”

Arndt said the plant will have 7,500 employees by the end of the year and that it could produce up to 350,000 vehicles by 2014.

Gov. Nikki Haley was among the dignitaries who were on hand to mark the occasion.

“BMW has once again provided tremendous evidence that South Carolina is a blueprint for significant economic development success,” she said. “The partnership between this company and our state is an enduring example of how to attract, retain and grow business to stimulate perpetual job creation.”

BMW said its investment at its only U.S. plant has amounted to $6 billion over the years.

Arndt said that plant produced 276,065 vehicles for over 130 markets around the world in 2011, representing a 73 percent increase from the year before.

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Seventy percent of the vehicles produced were exported, and the company’s cars remain in high demand, he said.

Arndt said more than 117,000 of the X3’s were sold in 2011, representing a 156 percent growth of the vehicle over its predecessor.

Since 1994, the South Carolina plant has undergone four major expansions and produced six different BMW models: the first American-made 318i; the Z3 and Z4 roadsters, and the X5, X6, and X3 sports activity coupes and their variants.

When the plant opened in 1994, BMW employed 500 people at the 1,000-acre site. It was the German automaker’s first full manufacturing site outside of Germany.

The Post and Courier contributed to this report.