The announcement by a Korean company that it would spend $21 million to begin assembling electric cars in Spartanburg County is a sign the Upstate is positioned to be a leader in the up and coming industry, economic development leaders said.
CT&T Ltd., a Seoul-based company, said it will team up with 2AM Group, a Spartanburg company, for its first North American production line to assemble low-speed electric vehicles in Duncan.
That announcement, coupled with the start of production in Greenville this month by Proterra, an electric bus company, puts the Upstate at the forefront of the emerging industry of alternative and “green” energies, said Kevin Landmesser, vice president of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, a public-private economic development organization.
“There are tons of opportunities for us,” Landmesser said.
Landmesser said he expects more alternative energy-related economic development announcements to be made in the Upstate within the next six months.
Richard Blackwell, director of investor and public relations for the Upstate SC Alliance, said the Upstate’s status as an automotive hub, something that started with BMW’s arrival, expanded by the location of dozens of Tier 1 suppliers and was cemented by the development of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.
“It has taken a lot of time to get the puzzle pieces in place,” he said, “but they are there and now they’re paying off.”
Former Spartanburg mayor Bill Barnet said the successes of the Upstate so far points to the importance of regionalism.
“Regionalism is gaining traction,” he said. “It shows that communities don’t have to be divided by geopolitical lines.”
Automotive and energy are two of the four target markets for the Upstate SC Alliance, which represents Greenville, Spartanburg and eight other Upstate counties.
Landmesser and Blackwell said the Upstate is a hub for the automotive industry with BMW and more than 30 suppliers to the automotive giant.
In addition, CU-ICAR is a center for automotive research and development, Blackwell said.
“Automotive is a big industry, but it’s a tight-knit community as well,” he said. “Automotive companies will find like-mindedness here.”
Landmesser said the Upstate still provides manufacturers lower costs than other areas of the country and there’s a growing interest in alternative fuels because of national security, economic and environmental concerns.
“It’s a perfect storm,” he said.
The United States is playing catch-up to the Europeans when it comes to alternative energy and the Upstate is a popular choice among international companies, he said.
“The Europeans see the area as ripe for development and they have experience in alternative fuels,” Landmesser said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there.”
The vehicles that will be assembled at CT&T’s plant on South Carolina 290 on the Spartanburg Community College’s Middle Tyger Campus can travel up to 35 mph for about 70 miles before needing to be re-charged.
The vehicles are designed for neighborhood travel.
The company said it could assemble 10,000 cars a year with one shift. It said it could create up to 370 jobs in five years. The 370 jobs would cover three shifts.
The number of cars the plant will actually produce will depend on demand.
The company said it will begin hiring in September and hopes to begin production that month or October.
Imported parts would be used to assemble the cars at first. Company officials said it would take about 18 months before all the parts would be made domestically.
The vehicles start at $13,000. Air conditioning and other options add to the price.
Proterra is expected to begin assembling buses at a temporary facility in the old Orders flooring building on Whitley Court off Interstate 85 near Laurens Road in Greenville.
The company will use that facility until its permanent manufacturing facility at CU-ICAR is ready.
Proterra is expected to spend $68 million and create 1,300 jobs.
The company wants to have 70 employees by the end of the year and to have about 300 on the payroll by the first anniversary of the plant’s opening.
U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-Greenville, said one other electric-vehicle company is looking at the Upstate. Inglis, who would not identify the company, said an announcement could be months away and somewhat depends on the country’s economic recovery and the price of gasoline.
Inglis said developing alternative energy vehicles will do three things: improve national security, create jobs in the Upstate and clean up the environment.
“It’s the triple play of this American century,” he said. “And it’s exciting to live in the midst of the triple play.”