BMW Gives Big Boost to South Carolina Workforce in Expansion of Assembly Plant

GREER, S.C. -- As much of the nation grapples with a jobless recovery, a $1 billion expansion at BMW's assembly plant in South Carolina is expected to create 1,600 new jobs at the facility by the end of the year.

A thousand of those employees have already been hired, bringing the total number of workers at the plant near Greenville and Spartanburg to 7,000. The expansion is expected to have a ripple effect throughout the economy in that region of South Carolina, which has already seen a dramatic transition from textile mills to international business over the past two decades.

The money BMW employees spend at local businesses, as well as the company's extensive network of suppliers in the region, create additional jobs. According to a 2008 study by the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, each BMW job has a multiplier of 4.3.

The plant expansion has begun manufacturing the second generation of BMW's X3 compact sport utility vehicle. The South Carolina facility also builds BMW's X5 and X6 models.

"We're (in the U.S.) actually the largest market for the vehicle," said Marty Padgett, editorial director of High Gear Media. "It's more cost effective to build it closer to the customers."

Even so, BMW plans to export 70 percent of the X3s produced at its South Carolina plant -- 20 percent for sale in China.

"International trade conditions have brought about a decline in the value of the US dollar vis a vis the Euro and other currencies," said Leslie Hough, an auto industry expert and project director for National Community Development Services. "That makes building cars in the United States more competitive and a better value for BMW."

While developing countries, such as China and India, offer less expensive labor, Hough said these nations still lack the skill and technical expertise to produce vehicles to the high quality standards of a major global automaker such as BMW.

Padgett agreed South Carolina and BMW are a good fit.

"The fact that they have three vehicle lines that are produced in South Carolina completely for the rest of the world really attests to the fact that they choose the right people, that they educate them to build cars and that they've been able to build a culture of auto manufacturing that didn't exist back in the early 1990s," Padgett said.

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