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Regional Report: South Atlantic States Thriving In Recession Rebound

The South is staying financially fit with investments and innovations in logistics, automotives, energy, biotech and renewables.

Apr/May 10
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Jacksonville, Florida-based PenserSC, a leading southeast logistics firm, is a conduit for U.S.-Caribbean trade. It provides over two million square feet of warehouse space in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami, and serves the pharmaceutical, food, industrial, retail, health and beauty, and paper industries.

Automotive Loves the Southeast
Low tax rates, labor rates, and land costs have attracted foreign and domestic auto assembly facilities to the Southeast's right-to-work states, as well as parts suppliers, transportation firms, and other auto-related companies, all of which employ tens of thousands of workers. Take a look at South Carolina. In March, BMW invested an additional $750 million in its upstate South Carolina factory to add 1.5 million square feet and 500 new on-site jobs, and increase production capacity to 240,000 units by 2012. This increases BMW Group's investments in its South Carolina operations to $4.2 billion. The firm currently employs more than 5,400 people at its Spartanburg plant. Accordingly, 40 of the state's 52 automotive suppliers have located new, North American operations in South Carolina to improve their relations with BMW.

North Carolina, with more than 141,000 workers employed at over 1,000 manufacturing establishments, ranks tenth in the U.S. auto industry for the number of employees supplying parts, accessories, and components for automotive, truck, bus, and heavy equipment industries, according to North Carolina State University.

Georgia has more than 230 automotive-related manufacturing companies employing approximately 52,000 workers, according to Georgia Power. The state exported more than $2.3 billion in vehicles and parts internationally in 2008. Last year Georgia welcomed Kia Motors Corporation's first U.S. manufacturing operation at West Point in Troup County. The company is investing over $1 billion in its facility, and plans to produce 300,000 vehicles a year. This is good news for Georgia's suppliers, as it supports 4,100 new jobs and $830 million in investments, according to state officials.

Focus on Energy
Virginia leads in fossil fuels as the country's tenth-largest producer of coal. It is also increasing natural gas production due to the development of coalbed methane reserves, according to state government sources. In West Virginia, the National Research Center for Coal and Energy advances ideas about the development and use of clean energy, especially from fossil fuels. The state leads the nation in underground coal production: In 2008 West Virginia mines produced over 165 million tons of coal.

In March, President Obama announced a new energy program amenable to offshore oil and gas exploration from Delaware to Florida. The proposal worries some environmentalists, but is garnering praise from local groups such as the Southeast Energy Alliance, a non-partisan energy coalition.

The region is embracing clean energies, too, with new programs, laws, and research and development activity in solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cell, biofuel, and other green sectors. For example, North Carolina is one of several states with a legislative renewable energy mandate. It requires state utilities to derive up to 12.5 percent of their retail sales from renewable energy sources by 2021.

In the Sunshine State, the Florida Center of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology at Florida Atlantic University is developing new ocean energy technologies to generate electricity, hydrogen, and potable water, as well as innovative residential cooling methods. And thanks to the Georgia Institute of Technology, wind turbines used to create electricity may soon cost less and work more efficiently. The institute is part of a new project developing simplified turbine blades.

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