Over the past decade, the Charleston region's economy has been driven by things that travel by water or by air. In 2018, the area will add ground transportation to that mix.
A pair of global vehicle manufacturers will open factories in the Charleston area this year, creating a combined 5,300 jobs and attracting a network of suppliers and supporting industries to South Carolina.
Volvo Cars will build a remodeled S60 sedan and, in a few years, the popular XC90 SUV at its $1.1 billion manufacturing campus in Berkeley County. Mercedes-Benz Vans will build Sprinter commercial vehicles at a $500 million facility in North Charleston.
They are part of a growing statewide automotive industry that also boasts a BMW plant in Spartanburg County making X-model SUVs and a cluster of tire manufacturers capable of producing more then 100,000 tires per day. All told, the industry accounts for $27 billion of economic impact every year.
Volvo and Mercedes-Benz Vans are the latest additions to an advanced manufacturing base that also includes Boeing Co., which makes 787 Dreamliner commercial planes at a North Charleston campus adjacent to Charleston International.
The Dreamliner family includes the 787-10 — the largest plane in the program that's built exclusively in North Charleston. Boeing delivered its first "Dash 10" to Singapore Airlines in March.
Since its arrival in 2009, Boeing has invested more than $2 billion into its Dreamliner facility and other North Charleston sites, including: a plant that builds interior parts for the Dreamliner; a research and technology center; a propulsion center that builds and designs engine parts; an aircraft paint hangar; and an engineering design center that provides support for Dreamliner production.
The growing manufacturing base is complemented by the Port of Charleston, which is setting records for containerized cargo moving through its terminals as big ships from Asia travel through an expanded Panama Canal to bring goods the the East Coast.
The port — along with state and federal governments — is investing nearly $2 million in improvements to lure more of those big ships, including a new container terminal and a project to make Charleston Harbor the deepest waterway on the East Coast.
That investment and the growing cargo base is drawing a mix of warehouses, distribution centers and logistics firms to the state, and it has spurred a speculative construction boom in the Charleston region that's attracting developers that hadn't looked at this area before.
While Charleston is the State Ports Authority's home base, its operations reverberate throughout the state, with inland ports in Greer and Dillon facilitating the movement of cargo to and from large markets to the west and northeast. That easy access to supply chains and customers has allowed large manufacturers like Sonoco, International Paper and Samsung to call the Palmetto State home.
All told, the port boasts an annual economic impact of $53 billion statewide, with 187,000 tied to its existence.