‘Germany is just a great country to work with for us,” says John Lummus, who leads the Upstate SC Alliance
BMW is the biggest and best-known German company in the Upstate but it is certainly not the only one.
The automaker in Greer is among 136 German-owned firms in the Upstate, ranging from manufacturing titans like to Bosch to the Aldi grocery store chain. Besides providing more than 19,000 jobs, they contribute to the region’s cultural diversity in ways that range from German restaurants to the European character of downtown Greenville.
In light of President Donald Trump’s recent complaints about German trade practices, South Carolina officials are seeking to reassure these companies they are still welcome in the Palmetto State.
“All of these companies are happy in South Carolina and we want to make sure they stay happy,” said Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, a Republican from Anderson.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan said in an email that that companies like Bosch, BMW and ZF Transmissions “are important to the future of the Upstate.”
Duncan said he hopes these companies continue to thrive here “for decades to come.” The Republican from Laurens represents a district that includes part of Greenville and all of Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties.
Bryant, Duncan and other officials have avoided directly criticizing Trump. But they are pushing a positive message that contrasts sharply with the president’s remarks.
“Germany is just a great country to work with for us,” said John Lummus, president and CEO of the Upstate SC Alliance.
South Carolina’s exports to Germany totaled $3.7 billion last year, ranking second to China as the state’s largest export market, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A Bosch spokeswoman issued a diplomatic response when asked about Trump’s comments.
“Stable trading conditions are essential for healthy and sustainable economic growth,” company spokeswoman Linda Beckmeyer said in an email. “Our international activities and investments are designed to be long term.”
Bosch employs more than 1,200 people at its plant in Anderson and 750 at its facility in Fountain Inn. Another 1,900 people work at its plant in Charleston.
A global supplier of technology and services, Bosch has nearly 33,000 employees in North America, where it racked up $13.7 billion in sales last year.
The company is the second-largest manufacturing employer in Anderson County. Since opening its plant on S.C. 81 North in 1985, Bosch has repeatedly enlarged the facility, which now encompasses 485,000 square feet. Work is underway to expand two buildings where employees make an array of automotive products that include oxygen sensors, integrated air fuel modules and transmission-control modules.
Trump’s complaints about Germany haven’t caused much of a stir at the Bosch plant in Anderson, employee Bennett Hobbs said.
“There are enough checks and balances that the president can’t do too many goofy things,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs started working at Bosch when he moved to Anderson 17 years ago. He said the company’s stability is one of the main reasons that he likes working there.
“I feel comfortable with my job,” he said.
Last year the Bosch paid more than $1.5 million in fees and property taxes to Anderson County.
Additionally, Bosch’s U.S.-based foundation has awarded more than $3.4 million to organizations and schools in South Carolina since 2013. Those grants include $560,000 to support scholarships for women and underrepresented students at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville.
Bosch is a “great community partner,” Lummus said.
There are about a dozen German companies in Anderson County, more than from any other foreign nation.
They include Baldor Electric near Belton, which makes energy-efficient motors and transmission products, and Fraenkische, which is a plastic fabrication company near Anderson.
German influences in the Upstate predated BMW’s move to the region. But the presence of the automaker and the ensuing influx of German companies has enhanced the area’s international flavor
Germans settlers founded Walhalla in Oconee County in the mid-1800s. Each year large crowds flock to the community’s Oktoberfest celebration.
In the 1960s, a number of German textile machinery manufacturers were lured to the Spartanburg area. Today there are more than 1,300 households in Spartanburg County where German is spoken, according to the county’s convention and visitors bureau.
The German American Club of the Carolinas, which is based in Spartanburg, marked its 40th anniversary last year. The club has about 140 members.
The abundance of Germans in the Upstate is one of the factors that attracted religion professor Alfons Teipen to Furman University in 1997. He said downtown Greenville reminds him of a European city.
That’s not by accident. Former Greenville Mayor Max Heller was an immigrant from Austria who spearheaded the downtown’s revitalization with a vision of the cities he was familiar with.
Teipen said he is troubled by Trump’s derogatory comments about Germany.
“He does not really fully understand international trade and how it works in the 21st century,” he said.
If Trump’s rhetoric leads to a trade war with Germany, Teipen said, the negative consequences would reach beyond a loss of jobs. It would also detract from the Upstate’s cultural fabric, he said.
“That would be a shame,” he said. “Diversity is a plus.”
Follow Kirk Brown on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM
Read or Share this story: http://www.independentmail.com/story/news/local/2017/06/02/scores-german-firms-fuel-upstate-economy/364669001/