Originally created 03/14/97

Automaker looks overseas to South



German automaker Audi AG is considering building an assembly plant in Georgia, South Carolina or another Southeastern state after the turn of the century, a spokesman said Thursday.

"We are making studies in many countries to see whether it makes sense to be present there or to increase our presence there," Audi spokesman Norbert Essing said.

Project representatives visited the finalist site in Georgia last week, said Randolph Cordoza, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Industry.

But that site was not identified. Mr. Cordoza could not be reached for comment because he was out of the country Thursday.

Augusta and Columbia County are attractive to large manufacturers because of stable local governments and good schools, said David Poythress, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor. But he said he could not comment specifically on any efforts to attract a particular factory or identify a prospective site.

Companies such as Audi consider Southern sites because of favorable taxes, laws and worker attitudes, according to Mr. Poythress. "Southerners are used to working and taking personal responsibility for what they do, more so than in other parts of the country," he said.

The Wall Street Journal quoted unidentified sources as saying that Audi was prepared to spend as much as $780 million for a new plant with up to 2,500 jobs. A decision on the location of the 500- to 1,000-acre site is expected by February, the report said.

Mr. Essing said that Audi was only studying the possibility of bringing some manufacturing to the United States and that plans remain "incredibly vague."

In South Carolina, consultants for Audi have focused on sites between Columbia and Charleston on Interstate 26, The Greenville News reported Thursday.

Fluor Daniel Consulting of Greenville, site selection coordinator for the Audi project, holds options on land near Orangeburg and has been conducting soil tests there. When asked about the reports Thursday, a company representative said, "I cannot confirm that," and hung up the phone.

But the people on the street are eager to talk about it.

"We have heard the same rumors and discussions," said Danny Black, president of the Tri-County Alliance, which includes Bamberg County near Orangeburg. Unemployment is 9 percent in Bamberg County, largely because of layoffs at Savannah River Site, he said.

Another site in Dorchester County, rejected by Mercedes-Benz when it chose an Alabama location, may also be under consideration, the News reported.

South Carolina officials would not comment on the project.

Nearly half of Audi's $11 billion in sales last year were outside Germany. The automaker, the luxury car unit of Volkswagen AG, is building a plant in Brazil expected to open in late 1998 and produce 30,000 cars annually.

Staff Writer Walter C. Jones contributed to this article.