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Volvo Plant Represents Another Missed Opportunity For Black Community
9/2/2015 3:48:03 PM

The plant, which will be located in Berkeley County, outside of Charleston, will make Volvo models for sale in the United States and for export. Source: Volvo
By Barney Blakeney

Local Black folks have been driving Volvo cars for decades. Some prefer the expensive luxury automobiles and view them as status symbols. But when Volvo comes to the Lowcountry this year as the company builds its first U.S. plant near Ridgeville in Berkeley County, there are no guarantees the significant investment Black folks make in the company through their purchases will reap any return benefits.

The auto maker will break ground on its new $500 million plant later this year that is expected to open in 2018. Initially the company is expected to employ some 2,000 workers in the next decade, ultimately employing about 4,000 workers by 2030.

And while the South Carolina Legislature led by Gov. Nikki Haley is giving the Chinese-owned company almost $200 million in tax incentives to build in Berkeley County, neither the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus nor any other Black group has asked the company for incentives to the Black community.

In a recent conversation North Charleston minister Rev. Nelson Rivers, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church and vice president of Stakeholder Relations for the National Action Network said his organization plans to meet with Volvo officials. It’s important to do so while the plant’s location to the area is in the planning stages, he said.

But by most accounts the local Black community has not organized itself to approach the company expected to have an annual economic impact of about $5 billion in the state.

Charleston Trident Urban League President Otha Meadows said he is unsure if the auto maker is ignoring the Black community intentionally, but he is relatively certain the Black community has made no concerted effort to approach the company with a consensus agenda.

“An issue is we don’t have a platform or agenda that lends itself to how they can or should contribute to the African American community,” Meadows said Monday. But Volvo’s location in the area is part of a larger issue however, Meadows said.

Volvo and other major manufacturers are locating to the area, jobs are being created and workers are flocking to this economic oasis to take advantage of the opportunities. The Black community has to articulate that a percentage of those jobs be reserved for the native workforce, he said. That articulation also should say programs must be developed which enable local workers to participate in the often specialized workforces being created.

Meadows said the roots of those efforts should reach deep into our communities so that more residents have opportunities for employment. Those deep-reaching roots can’t stop superficially at technical college level training programs, but also should include contributory tentacles affecting early education and even transportation.

“With the huge tax incentives being provided, there should be mechanisms in place that insure the rising tide indeed raises all boats. We need to get people into positions where they can take advantage of training,” he said. “I don’t think corporations are doing anything intentionally to exclude our community, but there is no plan or agenda for that coming from us. What is our plan to insure those opportunities reach down into our community?”

Volvo is just one economic opportunity in which the Black community has not developed a collective agenda for participation, Meadows said.

“Look at what’s happening on upper King Street where billions of dollars in reinvestment is taking place. Black folks almost are invisible in those projects,” Meadows noted.

Though he’s president of the local urban league, Meadows said he’s unaware of any consensus approaches from the Black community.

“These things have gone unaddressed for decades. We must get together and come up with an agenda for these corporations. If we’re not knocking at their doors and sitting at the table, everybody else will be promoting their agenda and we’ll be working on theirs,” he said.

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