Factory could bring 120 jobs

Morgan Olson will upfit locally made Sprinter vans, and it also will build a modified version of the Mercedes-Benz utility vehicle. (Leroy Burnell/postandcourier.com/File)

A Michigan company that specializes in delivery vehicles is expanding to the Charleston region, where it will join a growing roster of automotive manufacturers.

Morgan Olson, a maker of walk-in cargo bodies and other components for vans and trucks, said Monday it is finalizing plans to open a factory that will employ up to 120 workers by the end of next year.

The company is recruiting employees through the state-run readySC, including welders, painters, material handlers and general assemblers.

“We’re in the process of taking applications,” said Steve Hart, vice president of human resources.

Privately owned Morgan Olson was lured to the Lowcountry by a higher-profile automotive business: Daimler AG, which assembles its Mercedes-Benz Sprinter utility vans at a large factory in Palmetto Commerce Park in North Charleston.

Hart said Morgan Olson’s new plant will provide customized interior upfitting services for the German carmaker. Also, the Sturgis, Mich.-based company will use the new plant to produce a modified version of the Sprinter called the UDV, or Ultimate Delivery Vehicle.

“We’ll be doing two different product lines at the facility,” Hart said.

The company said it was not ready to disclose the exact location of the North Charleston plant Monday because the lease on the building had not been signed.

“We have to be within five miles of the Mercedes plant,” Hart added.

The S.C. Commerce Department declined to comment on the company’s expansion plans Monday.

The rebounding automotive industry has been a bright spot for the Charleston region, with much of the recent activity concentrated in the same business park that houses the Mercedes van plant.

One of the latest examples was Cummins Turbo Technologies, which announced last month it is investing $19.5 million and adding 76 jobs at its Palmetto Commerce site. The diesel giant is adding a 125,000-square-foot warehouse and 10,000 square feet of office space at its existing factory, where it makes turbochargers.

Also, an unidentified automotive business is proposing to invest $56 million and create nearly 100 jobs in the business park off Ladson Road, according to a document filed with Charleston County Council. The manufacturer has been identified publicly only by a code name, “Project Quality.”

Additionally, Streit USA Armoring, which fortifies standard vehicles with bullet-resistant safeguards, began work on a new plant in Palmetto Commerce late last year.

Morgan Olson is the latest newcomer. It has been making and retrofitting delivery vehicles for more than 60 years ago, and its customers have included UPS and FedEx. In the 1980s and ’90s it cranked out more than 150,000 trucks for the U.S. Postal Service, according to its website.

Hart said the new deal between Morgan Olson and the Mercedes van unit was unexpected.

“I hope that they did that because of our quality and our on-time delivery,” he said.

Officials from the van plant could not be reached for comment.

Hart said Morgan Olson is “happy to have an opportunity” to bring some jobs back to an industry that suffered some crushing employment cuts from the last recession.

“It going to be a costly venture for us, but I’m sure we’ll get over it, and that it will be profitable for us and Mercedes-Benz, as well,” he said.

The company expects to release more details about its expansion plans later this month.

Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.