South Carolina becoming an export star

Charleston Post and Courier
David Slade
February 29, 2012

Chrysler had a Superbowl ad about the recovery of the Detroit auto industry, but South Carolina was the nation’s top car exporter in 2011.

The Palmetto State was also the top exporter of tires, trade statistics show, and auto and tire manufacturing are set for more gains this year.

“That’s good news, because these are good jobs,” said Douglas Woodward, director of the Division of Research and professor of economics at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

“I think the real story is the growth, which was higher than I would have expected.”

Driven by high-value goods produced upstate, the value of South Carolina exports jumped more than 21 percent last year to nearly $24.7 billion.

Leading those exports was luxury auto manufacturer BMW, which built 276,065 crossover vehicles at its Greer plant last year, a 73 percent production increase from the year before, with 70 percent of them shipped overseas.

“That’s the major export from here,” said State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome. “I think on strength of BMWs alone, we’re a top-10 vehicle-exporting port (in the world).”

And BMW is undergoing an expansion that should raise capacity to 300,000 vehicles in 2012. The plant produces all of BMW’s X-model vehicles.

Another Upstate manufacturer, Michelin North America, made South Carolina the top tire exporter of all states last year. Michelin ships industrial tires for mining operations overseas through the ports of Charleston and Savannah.

“South Carolina is poised to become the number-one tire producing state in the U.S., and the tires that we make here are exported all over the world,” said Pete Selleck, president of Michelin North America.

Tire production in South Carolina appears poised to soar, with Japanese manufacturer Bridgestone building a new passenger tire plant in Aiken County and expanding an existing light-truck tire plant there.

Also, German manufacturer Continental has announced plans for a $500 million plant in Sumter County, to be completed by 2017.

General Electric, also an Upstate manufacturer, boosted the state’s high-value exports in 2011 due to increasing demand for natural-gas-fired turbines.

The huge machines are often shipped through the Port of Charleston.

“We will continue to work on improving and modernizing our ports system, which plays a key role in bringing companies from around the globe to our great state,” said Gov. Nikki Haley.

India’s ambassador to the U.S., Nirupama Rao, said Tuesday during a tour of the Charleston port that she would like to see Haley lead a trade delegation to India.

Rao said that Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, is “a star there, naturally.”

“I think all of India just adores her, and we are proud of her achievements,” Rao said.

Newsome, who attended the meeting with Rao, said South Carolina is enjoying an export boom, partially due to the health of certain overseas economies and to currency fluctuations.

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