South Carolina governor visiting Germany, a major driver of the state's economy

FILE - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks during a press conference at the BMW Spartanburg plant in Greer, S.C., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. McMaster is off to Germany next week of June 24, 2024, to strengthen the business ties which have helped the one time struggling Southern state to boom this century. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford, file)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is off to Germany next week to strengthen business ties that have fueled this century's economic boom in the formerly struggling Southern state.

The governor is an invited guest at the TDI conference, also known as the Day of German Industry. McMaster will give a keynote speech on South Carolina's relationships with German companies and participate in a panel discussion, South Carolina Commerce Secretary Harry Lightsey said.

“South Carolina was the pioneer in reaching out around the world to companies and getting them to come here,” Lightsey said. “That really has been the backbone of South Carolina’s growth story.”

South Carolina ranks second in the U.S., behind Delaware, in a population-adjusted index that tracks foreign companies with distinct operations in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

And Germany’s companies have the largest presence in South Carolina of any country in the world, with 262 facilities employing about 44,000 people, about 2% of the state’s total workforce.

Over five days in Germany starting Sunday, McMaster also plans to visit the headquarters of two major automakers with big stakes in South Carolina.

In Munich he will meet executives of BMW, which built a plant in Greer in 1994 that continues to expand to more than 11,000 workers today. It ushered in a wave of foreign automakers building Southern factories and buttressed the state against the rapid move of the textile industry overseas and to Mexico.

Another stop is in Wolfsburg, where McMaster will tour Volkswagen headquarters. Volkswagen is the parent company of Scout Motors which is building a plant near Columbia to make electric SUVs. The company expects to open in 2027 and employ up to 4,000 people.

“CEOs want to meet with CEOs. Gov. McMaster is the CEO of our state,” the Commerce Department said in a statement.

McMaster also plans to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country's finance minister, Lightsey said.

McMaster will return to South Carolina on Thursday, while Lightsey plans to stay a few extra days for more meetings.

Last year, about 1,700 political leaders, business executives, scientists and others attended the TDI conference.