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TheStreet Open House

BMW At 20: Plant Exceeds Hopes, Tax Debate Ongoing

By JEFFREY COLLINS

GREER, S.C. (AP) â¿¿ Two decades ago, then-South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campbell stood at the Greenville-Spartanburg airport and announced that a BMW plant being built just up the road would be a benchmark in the history of the state.

By most measures, the German automaker's plant near Greer has exceeded some lofty expectations. BMW officials said they expected the plant to have 2,000 workers and make 6,500 luxury vehicles a month. In November, the factory's 7,000 employees produced more than 25,000 of BMW's crossover vehicles, which are a mix of an SUV and a coupe. In 20 years, BMW has invested $6 billion in South Carolina, an amount nearly equal to the state budget proposed by Gov. Nikki Haley this month.

"They never stopped building the plant. It has been a continuing expansion," said Bruce Yandle, an economics professor emeritus at Clemson University.

BMW is now as much a part of modern South Carolina culture as barbecue buffets and The Shag, so much so that politicians have been chasing the next BMW ever since.

But some say that pursuit has had its drawbacks. BMW received hundreds of millions of dollars in public money and tax breaks. While that investment appears to have paid off, it also led to an often-cash-strapped state providing millions more in taxpayer money to hundreds of other companies â¿¿ most of it without much public oversight â¿¿ making it nearly impossible to judge the quality of these public investments.

Officials say BMW's success is evident. A parade of suppliers followed the German automaker's plant, and a University of South Carolina study found BMW and the plants that supply the parts to make the vehicles account for more than 1 percent of the state's nearly 2 million workers.

The automaker gave $10 million to help Clemson establish its International Center for Automotive Research. The auto plant just off Interstate 85 might be the most recognizable landmark between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.

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