Planes, cars help S.C. move $30.9B in exports BMW, Boeing push 2015 exports up by 4.2 percent

BMW automobile shipments from the Columbus Street Terminal in Charleston helped South Carolina set a record with $30.9 billion in exports in 2015.

South Carolina set another record in 2015 with $30.9 billion in exports by both sea and air, with BMW automobiles accounting for nearly one-third of all goods sent to foreign countries.

Last year’s total is 4.2 percent higher than in 2014 and is the sixth consecutive year of export growth for the State Ports Authority, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“South Carolina companies continue to produce top-quality products, and the world is taking notice,” Bobby Hitt, the state’s Commerce Secretary, said in a statement. “Looking ahead, the continued growth and development of our international trade footprint is critical as we seek to keep our state and its economy moving forward.”

The BMW plant in Greer was the state’s top exporter, sending $9.8 billion worth of vehicles to other countries. That is a 7.8 percent increase over 2014 totals and keeps South Carolina at the nation’s top spot for exports of completed passenger vehicles.

“In addition to being the largest U.S. automotive exporter, our South Carolina plant has also become the largest facility in BMW’s global production network,” Manfred Erlacher, president and CEO of BMW Manufacturing, said last week. “These achievements are significant and clearly reinforce BMW’s ongoing commitment to the U.S.”

South Carolina also led the nation in the export of tires, accounting for more than 28 percent of the country’s tire export market.

Boeing Co., which makes its 787 Dreamliner commercial airplane in North Charleston, had more than $4 billion in export sales, giving South Carolina about 12 percent of the U.S. market share. Aircraft exports represented a 176 percent increase over 2014 totals.

China remained South Carolina’s top export partner, with more than $4.4 billion in goods shipped to that country. Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and Mexico rounded out the top five.

South Carolina’s year-over-year increase led all Southeastern states and was the fifth-biggest increase nationwide.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SPA, said exports are a key reason the Port of Charleston is growing faster than the national average for seaports. A project to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet to accommodate large cargo ships traveling through an expanded Panama Canal will allow for more growth, he said.

“Our harbor deepening project ... will further support the handling of heavy export cargo and, combined with other planned improvements to our terminals and infrastructure, (the authority) is well-poised to meet the needs of our state’s exporters,” Newsome said in a statement.

The harbor deepening is expected to be completed by 2020, in time for the opening of a new container terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_