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Automotive, Chemicals, and Plastics Drive Development in South Carolina

Jun/Jul 08
During South Carolina's record setting year in 2007, "Not only did we not see a slowdown in capital investment or job creation in 2007; actually, the first quarter of 2008 exceeded 2007," says Jack Ellenberg, deputy director for new investment for the South Carolina Department of Commerce. He notes that Governor Mark Sanford's leadership has resulted in tort reform, workers' compensation reform, and readjustment of the tax base, as well as legislation that allows smaller businesses more exposure to healthcare programs.

"We are not supported by one industry sector," says Ellenberg, crediting the state's diverse industries for the stable economy, including the automotive, aerospace, chemicals and plastics, services, and distribution sectors.

Direct foreign investment also assists in the economic balance. "We have been a trading point since the founding of our country," he says. "We have a strong history of international development, and we are benefiting from the weak dollar, with foreign companies looking to invest in the U.S at this time." For example, in this year's first quarter, BMW announced, an additional investment of $750 million in its Spartanburg County factory that will add a new plant and 500 new jobs by 2012. The company also has its only R&D facility outside of Germany in Greenville, at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. South Carolina operates state trade offices in Europe, Asia, China, Japan, and Canada.

Exports to the United Arab Emirates, Australia, and South Africa grew last year. "In 2007, $16.5 billion of exports were sent to 198 countries," says Ellenberg. Of the top 25 product sectors, iron and steel experienced the greatest export growth in 2007, followed closely by the aircraft and spacecraft sector. Other growing industries include automobiles, aluminum, copper products, and paper and paperboard. South Carolina ranks first among U.S. states and territories in the export of tires, and in synthetic staple fiber and fabric exports.
Spartanburg-based textile firm The Milliken Company is developing advanced fibers for the automotive industry.

Distribution centers are lured by the state's location, halfway between Miami and New York City, as well as access to the Port of Charleston. Ellenberg points out distribution centers for Starbucks, QVC, and Adidas, which consolidated all of its North American distribution points in South Carolina. "Large private sector developers are in the process of developing 23 million square feet of facilities that are prime for distribution or logistics operations," he says.

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