20 Years of BMW in the Upstate

In 1992, BMW announced plans to build a U.S. manufacturing facility in Greer, and on September 8, 1994, the first car—the 318i model—came off of the assembly line.

Twenty years later, nearly 3 million BMW vehicles that have traveled the roads both in the U.S. and around the world were manufactured here in the Upstate. In fact, more than 70% of the vehicles made here are exported to over 140 world markets, making South Carolina one of the largest automotive exporters in the U.S. (by value).

The facility sits on 1,150 acres adjacent to I-85 and the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport—and nearly 130 of those acres are indoors, with 5.6 million square feet of manufacturing space following a recent expansion.

Original forecasts for the plant envisioned employing 2,000 workers, but that number has been eclipsed by a long shot—currently 8,000 are employed, making it the 5th largest employer in the state. Eight hundred more workers will be hired by the end of 2015 as the facility gears up to add a fifth model, the BMW X7, to its production line.

Choosing South Carolina

Several factors came together to make the Greer location ideal for BMW’s U.S. manufacturing presence. One was the South Carolina Technical College System and its ability to train a skilled workforce. During its time here in the Upstate, BMW has formed partnerships with the local technical and community colleges, and it is also a part of Apprenticeship Carolina, which allows for specific workforce training.

A second key factor was the proximity to key transportation facilities, including GSP Airport, but also the Port of Charleston—which was made even more convenient last year with the addition of the Inland Port in Greer.

Far from turning South Carolina into an industrial wasteland as a tradeoff for the boost to the economy, BMW has environmental partnerships with such organizations as The Nature Conservancy, Palmetto Conservation Foundation, and the South Carolina Wildlife Federation and has created the BMW Conservation Award to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to preserving the natural resources of our state.

In addition, the company is committed to sustainable practices, such as attaining an astounding 94% recycling rate, reducing both water and power consumption by nearly 50% since 2006, and adopting green manufacturing practices—making it one of the first in the industry to earn the ISO14001 certification.

The Economic Impact

Just what has the economic impact of a large multinational automotive manufacturer in the Upstate been? According to a study conducted by the USC Moore School of Business, the company contributes $16.6 billion annually to the state in terms of goods and services attributed to BMW’s presence. Annual labor income attributed to BMW’s presence (BMW as well as suppliers and other businesses) is $1.8 billion, or 30,777 jobs.

Since 1992, BMW’s total investment dollars in the state have totaled $6.3 billion, with four major expansions since the plant’s opening.

BMW’s presence has encouraged ancillary, supporting businesses to locate here in South Carolina as well, and to date there are 40 top-tier suppliers located in the state.

Moving forward, says Sky Foster, Corporate Communications Manager, “If history is our guide, then BMW’s continued investment in South Carolina should yield additional jobs and investment by other companies as well. This trend has been solid for 20 years and we expect it will continue.”

Photos courtesy BMW Manufacturing.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.