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Summer 2017

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An aerial view of the progress being made at Volvo’s Berkeley County campus.
An aerial view of the progress being made at Volvo’s Berkeley County campus.

A Push To Start

For decades, the view along westbound I-26 near Ridgeville didn’t change much – a thick stand of trees lining thousands of acres with more trees, owned and farmed by the former MeadWestvaco paper manufacturer.

By late next year, though, the view beyond those trees in western Berkeley County will be very different: a vast and modern LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified manufacturing campus where Volvo Cars will produce its first American-made automobile. The plant’s building shells are already complete.

“This is by far the biggest project we have ever done as Volvo in the United States,” Volvo Cars USA President and CEO Lex Kerssemakers said in a September 2015 groundbreaking at the site. In fact, “the biggest project” is actually eight projects in one, and Volvo is on track to complete them all in time for a late 2018 production launch.

“There are so many intricate parts to this,” said Stephanie Mangini, corporate communications manager for Volvo Car US Operations, which has temporary offices in Summerville, near the plant site. “Construction is one piece of it. Equipment installation is also complex and time-consuming, and that is the phase we’re in now.”

Volvo personnel are also establishing a purchasing organization and local and regional sourcing, building a logistics footprint, creating the information technology infrastructure, setting up production and launching the vehicle itself.

Flanked by Team South Carolina, then-Gov. Nikki Haley announced in the spring of 2015 that Volvo chose South Carolina<br>as its new U.S. headquarters.
Flanked by Team South Carolina, then-Gov. Nikki Haley announced in the spring of 2015 that Volvo chose South Carolina
as its new U.S. headquarters.

“We’re going to build the all-new S60 sedan by the end of next year,” Mangini said. “That can’t happen until all of these other pieces are in place, and in the right sequence.”

Shortly after Volvo announced its South Carolina plant, the storied Swedish automaker delivered more exciting news: Initially, Berkeley County would be the only location manufacturing the all-new S60 sedan. When those cars begin rolling off the production line next year, Volvo will have about 1,500 employees at the plant – a significant increase from the 200 hired so far, with 2,000 employees ultimately expected on site.

When then-Gov. Nikki Haley announced in May 2015 that Volvo was coming, she credited “Team South Carolina” for pulling off the win. The team included the state Department of Commerce led by Secretary Bobby Hitt, Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler, other economic development organizations including the South Carolina Power Team, the South Carolina State Ports Authority, Trident Technical College, readySC, and utilities including Edisto Electric Cooperative, Berkeley Electric Cooperative and Santee Cooper, among others.

Katarina Fjording, purchasing and manufacturing vice president for Volvo Car US Operations, said that team represents many important partners who are now helping Volvo maintain its aggressive launch schedule.

“The collaboration with these organizations has been critical,” Fjording said. “We are benefiting from the professional support, and there’s such an excitement around the project. There’s a real sense of pride as we all work together to build something new and great for South Carolina.”

In 2015, Santee Cooper helped sway Volvo to the Berkeley site with incentives including economic development grants and loans. Santee Cooper will produce the electricity that powers the plant, and Edisto Electric Cooperative will deliver that electricity through a substation that was built for the project and recently energized. The Santee Cooper Regional Water System will also provide water for the plant through Berkeley County Water & Sanitation.

“One of Santee Cooper’s primary responsibilities is to promote economic development through reliable and low-cost power and water services,” said Pamela Williams, Santee Cooper senior vice president of corporate services. “We are proud that our partnerships with Edisto Electric and Berkeley County Water & Sanitation contributed to Team South Carolina’s successful bid for the Volvo plant. The jobs and other significant economic impacts associated with the plant will be life-changing, to be sure. Also important, though, is Volvo’s outstanding reputation for corporate citizenship and ethical business operations.”

In fact, Volvo Cars was named one of 2017’s most ethical companies by the Ethisphere Institute. Volvo’s commitment to vehicle safety, of course, is legendary. The carmaker also has a strong sense of environmental stewardship. At the Berkeley plant, all of its buildings will be LEED certified, for instance. With roughly 2.3 million square feet of building space under roof, that is no small feat.

Volvo Cars is building its good-neighbor reputation as well, in part by working with Berkeley County on outreach to the communities near the plant to address the concerns or needs of those residents.

“This area will go from being a place people drive by to an area people drive to,” noted Bill Peagler, Berkeley County supervisor. “The introduction of a major manufacturing facility into a predominately rural area always poses challenges. We have been working very hard to manage growth in the area. We are thrilled with the prospect of thousands of high-quality jobs for our citizens, but we are striving to maintain the quality of life of those residents living in the area around the new plant.”

Volvo is also working with the county, Trident Technical College and the Department of Commerce on workforce development initiatives that will help train area residents who want jobs at the plant. Volvo officials have developed a curriculum with Trident Tech, and they are holding community meetings to tell residents about the kinds of jobs that will be available, the training and skills they will require, and the programs available to provide that training.

“We still need to hire more than 1,000 people before launch, and we’d like as many of those people to be local as possible,” Mangini said. “Because these jobs will require technology and automation skills, we partnered with Trident Tech to offer training to people who are interested.”

That commitment to “local” is actually one of the reasons Volvo is here. Volvo wanted to boost its market share in the U.S.

“This investment shows Volvo’s commitment to build cars where we sell them and source where we build,” Kerssemakers said in an April press release. “South Carolina has been an excellent partner, and we look forward to becoming an integral part of the Lowcountry community.”

Peagler, Berkeley’s supervisor, notes, “Volvo is a game-changer. The economic impact that the plant will bring to Berkeley County is just the first part of what we anticipate will be a major new development engine for the entire region.”

Santee Cooper is ready to help with that additional development Peagler anticipates: the utility bought the 6,800-acre MeadWestvaco Camp Hall tract in 2015 and sold Berkeley County the land for the Volvo site. Santee Cooper owns the remaining acreage and is finalizing plans to set aside 2,000 of those acres for conservation and wetlands mitigation and restoration. Another 1,400 acres, roughly, would be available for additional industry or commerce.

“This project represents a tremendous opportunity for Santee Cooper to help improve the state’s economy and the quality of life for South Carolinians, all while benefiting our existing customers,” Williams said. “It will be transformative.”

In late 2015, Volvo unveiled plans for its new S90, now manufactured in Sweden and in preproduction at a plant in Daqing, China. The Berkeley County plant wil manufacture the S60 sedan.
In late 2015, Volvo unveiled plans for its new S90, now manufactured in Sweden and in preproduction at a plant in Daqing, China. The Berkeley County plant wil manufacture the S60 sedan.
Volvo announced plans in 2014 to expand its Daqing plant and make it one of the most advanced car manufacturing facilities in China. That commitment to innovation and advanced technology is also taking shape at Camp Hall.
Volvo announced plans in 2014 to expand its Daqing plant and make it one of the most advanced car manufacturing facilities in China. That commitment to innovation and advanced technology is also taking shape at Camp Hall.