The latest bidding war between southern states over a new auto manufacturing plant was resolved in Georgia’s favor for the first time, as DaimlerChrysler said Thursday it had chosen a site near Savannah over one near Charleston, S.C., to turn out two types of vans now made only in Germany.
The $754 million assembly plant in Pooler, 12 miles west of Savannah, will go into construction in July "barring any unforeseen changes in the economy," said Joselyn Butler Baker, spokeswoman for Gov. Roy E. Barnes, who announced an agreement in principle with the company Thursday afternoon.
His fellow Democrat, Gov. Jim Hodges of South Carolina, offered as much as $346 million in incentives to lure the DaimlerChrysler factory, which is to produce Sprinter and Vito passenger and cargo vans and employ about 3,300 workers. Hodges is locked in a neck-and-neck battle for re-election with former Rep. Mark Sanford, who has attacked his economic-development record, and Hodges made no secret of his desire to win the new factory to bolster his chances in November. But aides to Hodges said his refusal to have the state purchase the land for the factory up front, without a guarantee that the plant would eventually be built, was a deal breaker for DaimlerChrysler. The state of Georgia already owns the Pooler property.
Charlie Way, South Carolina’s commerce secretary, said DaimlerChrysler had informed him that it would make no final decision on whether to build a plant in the United States at all until July. But Baker, of the Georgia governor’s office, said only a sharp economic downturn could stand in the way of the new factory.
In his announcement Thursday, Barnes, who is also up for re-election next month, said that state and local government incentives to DaimlerChrysler totaled $320 million, or $67,000 per job. South Carolina officials, however, suggested that Georgia had actually offered more than South Carolina’s $346 million in incentives. The South Carolina state government previously landed BMW with tax incentives that added up to only $202 million, officials said.
In addition to workers employed at the new plant itself, who will earn a combined $155 million, or an average of $47,000 each a year, Barnes said the factory would generate another 700 jobs once parts suppliers set up shop nearby. The factory itself would take up 2.3 million square feet on 1,560 acres near both the Savannah and Brunswick, Ga., seaports and the Savannah airport.
In recent years several Deep South states have lured foreign auto makers: Mercedes and Honda have plants in Alabama and Hyundai and Toyota have announced additional ones there; Nissan is opening a factory in Canton, Miss.; Saturn and Nissan operate plants in Tennessee, and BMW employs thousands of South Carolinians between Greenville and Spartanburg.
Georgia already has two automotive plants, but it had until now failed to lure a foreign carmaker, and its existing factories are not exactly late-model. One, a General Motors plant in Doraville, opened in 1947. The other, a Ford plant in Hapeville, opened in 1909.