OMG!!! It’s happening again…and the economic development community of Upstate South Carolina is drowning is a sea of self-congratulatory corporate induced rapture. Yes, one of our favorite global scions of industry, BMW, is teasing that it might, just might, consider EXPANSION at their local plant. The announcement is supposedly days away. Why, the biggest of biggest BMW cheeses, CEO Norbert Reithofer is actually heading our way Friday, the 28th to make rumor, reality.
A local reporter has dug up some site plans filed with the county. Seems BMW is adding a 675,000 square foot body shop next to an existing body shop at the current plant locale. There’s apparently going to be a 4,200 square foot analysis center as well, plus a few other goodies. The reporter also learned that there would be a new entrance added for more direct access from a nearby Interstate, plus 371 new parking spaces. Do I smell taxpayer incentives from local and state little guy and gal wallets and purses to pay for these projects and additional infrastructure?
Add BMW to the ever-lengthening list of multi-nationals that have planted their factories in Deep South manufacturing soil. In addition to BMW, my humble county already counts current, or just around the corner, high-profile corporations like UPS, Amazon, Indorama (included in a class action lawsuit charged with extensive cancer-causing pollution), Toray (its American subsidiary once fined for price-fixing), Michelin and just about any other greedy global stalker looking to penetrate the U.S. market without a scintilla of caring about decent wages, poisoning the citizenry through pollution or nailing the taxpayers while the company pays little or no taxes.
The county movers and shakers making all this ultimately negative “economic development” happen are a bunch called the “Economic Futures Group (EFG).” For many of their number, the only economic future they’re interested in is their own. Before I delve into this truism, I need to direct you to some statistics you should know about. The per capita income in the county these multi-nationals seek as the destination for the production of their goods, is just over $20,000 a year. These numbers are a little dated, but the hourly wage for many assembly line workers falls in the 15-16 dollar range. It’s a fact that a German, unionized BMW worker will make at least twice the wages and benefits of his or her American counterpart.
There’s a real racquet going in the U.S. and BMW. Many workers are hired through labor contractors for pauper’s wages. And when the company feels like giving them the boot – out they go with no protection whatsoever, because this is how the state’s heartless governor, Nikki Haley, feels about unions. Have a barf bag handy.
So while workers labor for next to nothing, let’s see how the Board of Directors of the Economic Futures Group is doing. I went to the County Assessor’s property search site to get a sense of what kind of dwellings they call home. For the ones I checked, pretty nice dwellings I must say. First, a bit of info from Zillow’s online real estate database. The average home value in the county where these mutli-nationals are located is $87,700. The price that homes sold for is even less at $83,815. The values of the board members homes that I checked ranged from a guy who owned two homes with a total value of around a half-million while the high-end board member had to settle for a home pushing 800 grand. Another member outdid that number, but one of the homes was on Hilton Head Island. Bare in mind, this is the South Carolina price. There are states where that same home would go for three to four times as much. Some other representative values were, $420,000, $450,000, $550,000.
One of the board members is in the land development business and half-dozen years ago was part of a big-boy group petitioning the feds for their business portion of the county to be designated as a foreign trade zone (before lots of foreign companies swooped in?). The EFG member also has a South Carolina and New York presence and an L.P. corporate designation, both as domestic and foreign.
These are the fat cats getting all the glory (and a penny or two?) for turning Upstate South Carolina into a modern-day version of a third-world giveaway to the world’s largest corporate takers.
I can hear Herr Riethofer’s Friday speech now: “Meine lieben Freunde.” It is with great pleasure that I come to your dirt-poor county to take all the advantages available to me and my company for cheap labor, the ability to pollute at will, pay no taxes and get your poor population to ante up assorted monetary, infrastructure and building and land incentives. In exchange for your generosity, BMW gets out from under unions, work councils, decent pay and benefits and all the other annoyances that civilized venues demand in my home base in Europe. “Danke.”
You’d think enlightened Democrats would come galloping to the rescue. Gallop? In this county, they don’t even bother to run for the key offices that could even the owner/worker playing field. Last Monday, all seven Republican State Representative incumbents galloped into the Election Commission offices en masse and paid their $208 filing fee to re-enlist for the American Legislative Exchange Council-run legislature. No state senate offices are up this year. No Democrats, at this point, have filed. There is one Democratic representative, who is pretty much reduced to yodeling in the General Assembly for all the good he can do.
Our County Chairman works like a dog to try to fire up the troops. The best he can do is get them to show up for a once-a-month Monday lunch. So far, nobody in this county will make a move. So the county is flooded with self-serving giant corporations taking advantage of a poor and clueless population and there’s no little Dutch boy equivalent willing to put a finger in the dike.
There is still hope, however. While fingers are not in the dike as yet, there are a handful of brave souls who are making noises about running. Fingers crossed.