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"Valkommen, y'all"


June 10, 2015   By Willard Strong in Economic Development

I distinctly remember the first time I rode in a Volvo, and thinking how exotic it seemed.

It was 1972 when I was 17, working on a presidential election campaign from an abandoned storefront in my hometown. Every week for about a month or so, a man named Jeff would come from out of town and check up on how us volunteers were doing with our grassroots campaigning.

Jeff drove a dark green Volvo four door, a 144 model I think. It was one of the first Volvos I remember. I rode in it one time and knew it was a pretty rare ride for a small South Carolina town. And I knew it was made in Sweden, a faraway place across the Atlantic. It had a four-speed manual transmission and was boxy, of course, as all Volvos were back then.

Except for the one Leonard drove to school. Leonard was the local banker's son and a year younger than I. He and his sister, Marge, often drove into the student parking in a red Volvo P1800, a late 1960s model. It reminded me of the English-made Aston Martin sports cars James Bond drove in the movies with Sean Connery at the wheel. I'd never seen a Volvo sports car before and have only seen a few P1800s since high school.

After those days, and into the early 1980s, Volvos seemed to be a station wagon of choice for many urban and suburban parents. This was before the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager redefined the station wagon segment into the ubiquitous minivan. That new genre took America and the world by storm.

I'd always wondered what the attraction to Volvo was and upon reading up a bit, it was safety, pure and simple. Knowledgeable motorists seeking a very safe car gravitated toward a vehicle with that factor built in.

Today, Volvo is seeking to reinvent itself in America by building a car in northwestern Berkeley County by late 2018. A lot's a stake for them, and Volvo plans to soon introduce 14 new models that industry analysts say it needs to remain competitive here at home and in overseas markets.

South Carolina, like it did with BMW and the recent addition of three tire manufacturers, stands ready to put its well-established auto-manufacturing prowess into overdrive to help another prestige brand get started.

Santee Cooper will be the source of electric power and water for the Volvo site. Edisto Electric Cooperative and Berkeley Electric Cooperative are ready to serve, as is Berkeley County Water & Sanitation, sourcing water from Santee Cooper's Lake Marion Regional Water System. We worked together with the state and so many others to land this prospect. Infrastructure matters — a lot.

Thousands of jobs, in construction and production, loom large on this transformative horizon for the Lowcountry, the port of Charleston, and the spin-off firms that will definitely be part of a Volvo supply chain.

Volvo has a goal of not only reducing, but eliminating serious injury or fatal injuries in their vehicles in the not-so-distant future. Can this laudable goal be achieved? If anyone can, I'm betting it would be Volvo. So "valkommen y'all," (that's welcome in Swedish) to our Scandinavian friends. The ride is just starting. Fasten your seat belt. Always.