skyra rideaux

Skyra Rideaux, assistant to City-Parish President Joel Robideaux, takes a photo of an early model BMW in the company's vistor center Tuesday. 

GREER, South Carolina — The 7 million-square-foot BMW plant between Greenville and Spartanburg along Interstate 85 was the last stop on the Leadership Exchange trip for the Acadiana delegation. It also marked what can be possible in the world of economic development.

Years ago, when the textile industry was leaving the area, leaders had to do something.

What worked for them was already having a European connection through the textile industry. And lots of other factors — namely local and state leaders who saw the opportunity — came together to bring in what today is an employer of 11,000 people that rolls 1,400 cars out of its factory each day.

“When BMW announced in 1992, it was a big shot in the arm for this area,” said Steve Wilson, media communications specialist for BMW. “There were a lot of people who had lost their jobs but were used to working in manufacturing.”

It’s that diversification that leaders in Acadiana can take away from the success in upstate South Carolina. Greenville, much like Lafayette, used its unique brand to build an economy and create jobs.

Lafayette, which has struggled when the oil industry goes south, could take note.

“To diversity the economy base and the industry base, we’ve got to have some changes,” One Acadiana president and CEO Troy Wayman told the group. “Let’s look at what’s needed. You can’t look at diversification just when times are bad. The best time for Acadiana would have been 30 years ago, but the second-best time is now.”

The result for the Greenville/Spartanburg area was a $43.3 billion impact in 2017, with 90 percent of it coming from the actual plant, Wilson said. A University of South Carolina study also revealed that 120,855 jobs would not exist if the plant had located somewhere else.

The plant itself is a 1.2 million-square-foot building full of automation that starts with a small frame and ends with cars rolling outside ready for its buyer. Each car is designed for someone who has already paid for the vehicle, many of which are right-side driver models that will be shipped out of the Port of Charleston.

The plant, one company official said, also has a 3 percent employee turnover rate, which is well above average for the automotive industry. The company will add about 1,000 more workers in 2021 when it completes a $600 million expansion for future generations of its X models, including electric models.

Acadiana officials toured the inside of the plant. It marked the end of the Leadership Exchange trip, one that One Acadiana schedules each year to exchange ideas and learn how other cities similar in size have been successful.

“There are different things that come out of these trips,” Wayman said. “We need to make sure we capitalize on the inspiration and spirit. Everybody is real excited, and there’s a lot of great conversation. Let’s keep the conversation going.”

Acadiana Business Today: More from Acadiana to Greenville: When the Greenville/Spartanburg area needed to diversify its economy, it hit a grand slam with the BMW plant; Junior Achievement's Business Hall of Fame honors business leaders

Follow Adam Daigle on Twitter, @adamdaigleAdv.