GREER, S.C. — For three generations, Phil Davis’ family grew peaches, cotton, barley and wheat on the rolling hills of upstate South Carolina.
But nearly 17 years ago, the Davis’ farm helped sprout one of South Carolina’s biggest economic yields ever.
In March 1992, the Davis family was the first of 105 property owners to sell their land for South Carolina to recruit BMW’s only American auto plant.
“At the time, we didn’t even know about BMW, but we knew the state and county wanted to assemble a large tract for some new business,” Mr. Davis recalled.
Within four months, local officials secured options to buy nearly 75 homes, two cemeteries, several farms and a small factory to make room for the German automaker.
To lure BMW to South Carolina, the late South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell proposed what at the time was one of the richest incentive packages offered to a business prospect. State and local governments pledged $130 million for site preparation, worker training and highway, rail and airport improvements.
“That investment has paid off many times over,” said R. Carter Smith, executive vice president for the Economic Futures Group in Spartanburg County who worked on recruiting BMW.
A three-man team negotiated purchases for the BMW site. Every night, Mr. Smith said he would get updates on the land acquisition effort and, as more land options were secured, his children would color a giant tax map he kept at his home in Spartanburg.
By June 1992, the state had secured options for more than 1,200 acres along Interstate 85 next to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and convinced BMW to build its initial $500 million plant on the site. Three months later, the houses, farms and cemeteries on the site had been relocated for construction of the plant.
From the groundbreaking to the first car rolling off the line was 23 months, a record completion time, officials said.
“Time is your enemy in the auto business,” said Carl Flesher, BMW’s first South Carolina employee who now serves as director of global business development for the International Center for Automotive Research at Clemson University.
Like BMW in South Carolina, Volkswagen of America has set an ambitious timetable to construct its only American assembly plant to be built at Enterprise South industrial park in Chattanooga. VW wants to open its $1 billion plant by late 2010 and be producing 150,000 vehicles a year by the end of 2011.
Mr. Smith said staying on schedule for site preparation and infrastructure is key to the success of automotive plants. BMW’s initial success has led the automaker continually to upgrade its facility, including a $750 million expansion now taking shape.
Those expansions by BMW are using up much of the extra land the state and local governments acquired in 1992 for what they first thought would be BMW suppliers.
“The suppliers have spread out over the region and, thankfully, we’ve had more property available for BMW to continue to expand,” Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Davis, who relocated his farm about seven miles away from the original family farm, said most residents have welcomed BMW and its investment in the community.
“But when I see the land they are clearing now for their latest expansion on where we used to farm, it’s still a little shocking for me,” he said.
Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...