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Manufacturing Continues to Grow in SC

Mercedes-Benz is expanding its North Charleston facility to produce vans. It is expected to be an additional 1 million square feet.
Alexandra Olgin/SC Public Radio
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    On a clear sunny day executives and government officials in black hard hats push metal shovels into loose dirt. This ceremonial groundbreaking in front of a leveled plot with construction equipment is the start of Mercedes-Benz Vans expansion in North Charleston.   

The new $500 million assembly plant will be more than double the size of the current facility and eventually employ 1,300 more people.

 

Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans Volker Mornhinweg said North Charleston was a convenient place to expand.

 

“We have a clear logistic opportunity here in Charleston because the harbor is extremely close and logistics is a huge part of the cost which we have,” he said.  

Mercedes-Benz isn’t the only foreign automaker that benefits from proximity to the port. The Swedish car maker Volvo is building a new factory nearby and BMW already has a large plant in the Upstate. A  2015 report from the University of South Carolina shows transportation equipment manufacturing has grown more than 40 percent between 2010 and 2014. Chad Moutray economist with the National Association of Manufacturers said the state is among the top five in the nation for manufacturing jobs added.

“South Carolina has completely changed itself over the last few years to become quite a powerhouse in transportation and a lot of other sectors,” he said.  

Those jobs pay about $10,000 more than the average salary in the state. Yet, the South Carolina’s unemployment rate is still above the national average. Moutray said the continued manufacturing growth in in South Carolina looks particularly good in a slowing world global economy.

“When you look at the significant amount of global head winds that have hit the sector, including sluggish growth abroad, the dollar has appreciated roughly 20 percent over the last two years, you actually have some pretty significant commodity challenges,” he said. “South Carolina has fared about as well as you would expect.”

 

The NAM reports in 2015 South Carolina’s manufacturers exported more than three billion dollars in goods.

According to the South Carolina Ports Authority, traffic has continued to increase. The SCPA reported a 1.4 percent increase in container volume last fiscal year. CEO Jim Newsome expects the growth to continue with the newly enlarged Panama Canal.

TheWest Coast ports currently handle trade from Asia than the East Coast ports. But, with the bigger canal now open, Newsome expects the traffic to even out between the coasts over the next four years.

“We think the Southeast has good fundamentals. The import growth because of population, and export growth because of manufacturing,” he said. “I look at us growing double the percentage growth of the rest of the port industry in the Southeast.”

The Port Authority is making plans to ensure that happens. A deepening project is scheduled for next year and the SCPA is considering adding another inland port and rail line in Dillon.