NORTH CHARLESTON (WCSC) - Mercedes-Benz Vans, LLC writes automotive history breaking ground on a $500 million Sprinter van plant in North Charleston Wednesday.
Officials say the Sprinter plant will be one of the most advanced automobile production sites in North America. "[The plant] represents a big leap to the future of production of Mercedes-Benz Vans in the U.S.," the company said in an emailed statement.
"This wouldn't be possible without the support of many people here in the state of South Carolina," said Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans Volker Mornhinweg.
Currently Sprinter vans are manufactured in Germany, then disassembled, shipped to the Port of Charleston, and taken to the facility in North Charleston where the pieces are then reassembled.
With the new plant, the next generation of Sprinter vans will be made from start to finish on American soil.
Michael Balke, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said all of the company's plants are built the same globally, but the major difference is the hardworking employees behind the scenes.
"The people who have helped build the success of this facility for many years now, they will be the foundation of our future," Balke said.
To physically show that commitment, all of the employees at the North Charleston plant signed a book which will then be placed in the cornerstone of the new expansion. State and local leaders also signed the book.
"[I want to] personally thank you for continuing to show what a South Carolina workforce looks like," Gov. Nikki Haley said. "We will stop at nothing to make sure it's top quality and that is something we're very proud of."
A spokesperson says the plant will be an additional 1.1 million square feet, double the size of the existing reassembly facility. It will feature a completely new body shop, paint shop and assembly line. When construction is complete, the entire campus will be roughly the size of 75 football fields.
"We are proud to say that Mercedes is North Charleston," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.
Company officials say North America has become the second largest market for Sprinter vans around the world.
The company also predicts that up to 1,300 positions will need filling by the end of the decade the plant opens. It is also estimated that suppliers will create approximately 400 new jobs in and around North Charleston.
"You made a sacrifice, 500 million dollars invested," Gov. Haley said. "1,300 families will be able to thank you, and for that we owe you a big debt of gratitude."
"Construction and all necessary preparation are right on schedule," Balke said. "We have already begun to recruit and train a core team of employees in administration. We have also hired the first technical specialists. Applications of production job candidates will be accepted beginning mid-2017."
Senator Lindsey Graham, Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt, Charleston County Council Chairman Elliott Summey, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Charleston Economic Development Director Steve Dykes, and several Charleston County Council members attended the ground breaking ceremony.
Production of the next-generation Sprinter is planned to begin before the end of the decade.