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Haley to lead auto trade mission to Sweden, Germany this month

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By Chuck Crumbo
ccrumbo@scbiznews.com
Published Sept. 4, 2015

Gov. Nikki Haley will lead a trade mission to Sweden and Germany to drum up business for South Carolina’s growing automotive industry, S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said.

Haley’s first stop on the trip, which begins Wednesday, will be the corporate headquarters of Volvo in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she and the delegation of up to 20 state and local economic development recruiters will meet with the automaker’s suppliers, Hitt said.

Gov. Nikki Haley will begin her trade mission Wednesday at Volvo’s corporate headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo/Provided)Gov. Nikki Haley will begin her trade mission Wednesday at Volvo’s corporate headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo/Provided)

The next stops will be at BMW’s corporate home in Munich and then Frankfurt, which is hosting the 66th International Motor Show, a biennial event Haley first attended in 2013. The group is scheduled to return to South Carolina on Sept. 17.

The delegation will include Haley, two staffers from her office and six members of the Commerce Department. Michael Haley, the governor’s husband, will be traveling with the group at his own expense, Hitt said.

Midlands officials going on the trip include Nelson Lindsay, executive director of Richland County Economic Development Office, and Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission. Also scheduled to accompany the group are David Ginn, president and CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, and Brian Nash, director of business development at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

Hitt said during a briefing on Thursday that S.C. representatives will be staffing a booth at the Frankfurt auto show. In addition, Hitt expects Haley and others will attend 50 to 60 meetings with companies that already have operations in South Carolina or are looking to expand to the state so they can be closer to their customers.

Hitt, a former executive with BMW’s manufacturing operation in Spartanburg County, said the mission intends to build on previous successes of recruiting Volvo and Mercedes-Benz vans, both of which announced plans and are building new plants in the Charleston area.

“We are building a fairly strong cluster in the state with three premium OEMs,” Hitt said, referring to original equipment manufacturers BMW, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

When an automotive company builds a new plant in the state, suppliers tend to follow. Hitt cited how BMW, which launched its Upstate operations in 1994, now has some 9,000 people who work on its campus, and its suppliers employ 30,000 South Carolinians at locations in 28 of the state’s 46 counties.

“You can see that when these plans unfold they have a lot of moving parts to them,” Hitt said.

Hitt also noted that of the past 10 announcements of auto manufacturers expanding to the Western Hemisphere, eight of those deals went to Mexico and two to South Carolina.

“We are the first state to break the Mexican trend and we will continue to work hard on that,” Hitt said.

Hitt said he doesn’t expect Haley to return with any new job announcements.

The mission is expected to cost taxpayers about $50,000, with local officials paying their own expenses.

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