Volvo’s advertising slogan is “Volvo. For life.” It’s fitting for a car that routinely ranks among the safest and is known for logging mile after mile during years of road-worthy service.
With Monday’s announcement that Volvo will invest $500 million in a factory in Berkeley County, the slogan takes on an additional meaning: Volvo will inject welcome new economic life into Berkeley County, the Lowcountry and the state.
Volvo estimates it will employ 2,000 people over the next decade and 4,000 by 2030. In March, Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties all had unemployment rates lower than the state’s 6.7 percent, but those new jobs could drive the rates down more in the Lowcountry and beyond.
Volvo’s economic impact is projected to be $4.8 billion annually. To put that in perspective, Boeing’s economic impact is estimated to be $11 billion, but its investment, $1 billion, is twice Volvo’s expected $500 million.
Seen in that context, incentives being provided by the state and by Berkeley County appear quite reasonable, and the cooperative effort by the governor, the Legislature, Santee Cooper and Berkeley County is to be applauded.
The state is expected to provide a $204 million incentive package, mostly to improve land around the Camp Hall Commerce Park site near Ridgeville.
Santee Cooper, a state-owned electric utility, will buy the site from MeadWestvaco and transfer certain portions to Volvo. It also will purchase two adjacent parcels for Volvo’s use and will provide economic development loans for construction on the site. That’s $29 million for land purchases, which Santee Cooper expects to recover in energy sales, and $25 million in grants and loans for infrastructure.
Berkeley County plans to offer Volvo a standard economic incentive agreement for big companies to waive or dramatically reduce local taxes.
Altogether, it is, as Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, said, “an investment in the future.” Similar incentives have paid off well by luring BMW to the Greenville area and Boeing to North Charleston.
In addition to the development package, Volvo officials say they were attracted to the area because of its proximity to the port of Charleston and because of the state’s technical college system, which will help with recruitment and training for employees at the new plant. That should serve as another good reason for the Legislature to advance a bond bill in support of technical education this session.
The Swedish-based automaker also sees the plant as a way to bolster its flagging auto sales in the U.S.
To accommodate an assembly plant, administrative offices and welcome center will require filling nearly 195 acres of wetlands on the 2,800-acre site. But Volvo has agreed to a mitigation plan that would preserve, restore and enhance 1,533 acres of wetlands on four tracts in the Dean Swamp and Walnut Branch watersheds, which are tributaries of the Four Holes Swamp blackwater river. Local conservation groups have endorsed the mitigation plan.
The state has some i’s to dot and some t’s to cross. But Volvo expects to begin work this year and predicts the first vehicles will roll off the assembly line in 2018.
The automaker can expect cheers of pride and enthusiasm from the Lowcountry. Volvo’s decision to move here is a huge win for South Carolina.