"I couldn't even begin to quantify what their presence has meant. Obviously, their impact touches so many different areas," Greer Mayor Rick Danner said.

BMW said it had no plans to mark the 20th anniversary of the announcement and groundbreaking. Instead, the company celebrated last January when its 2 millionth vehicle came off the production line. It also announced yet another expansion, worth $900 million and 300 new jobs.

Campbell, who was governor from 1987 to 1995 and died in 2005, doggedly pursued BMW over several years. A flurry of faxes at all times of the day and night between Germany and South Carolina secured the deal in June 1992, with Campbell celebrating by climbing into one of the company's luxury sedan's with a "BMW 1" license plate. BMW liked the land and tax breaks offered by the pro-business state along with its easy access to interstates and the port in Charleston.

South Carolina beat out Nebraska, whose governor at the time complained that he "couldn't move the Atlantic Ocean." The observation has been on the mark. BMW currently exports 70 percent of the vehicles made in South Carolina, with most of them heading out to sea on cargo ships.

BMW's decision wasn't met with all praise, especially outside the state. Plenty of people in the U.S. were already angry about manufacturing jobs going overseas for lower wages, and some suggested a plum manufacturer like BMW picked South Carolina because its people would work cheap. The state's right-to-work law also meant employees were not required to join labor unions.

"South Carolina was to the Germans the state that bore the closest resemblance to Mexico," a columnist in the New York-area paper Newsday wrote.

But BMW helped bring along a Southern manufacturing renaissance, especially with automobiles, Yandle said

"Then you had BMW's arch rival Mercedes thinking about locating a plant somewhere in the U.S.," Yandle said. "If those folks in South Carolina can build a BMW that the world will accept, then somewhere else in the South could make a Mercedes that the world would accept."

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