GSP History: BMW and the airport

The relationship between Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and BMW all started in 1989 when the German automaker was hunting globally for a place to build a plant outside of Germany. Anderson County was originally considered, but when BMW chairman von Kuhnheim and his team flew into Greenville-Spartanburg and saw the open land around the airport, they shifted their focus. A key requirement for the future plant was a space that would allow B-747 aircraft to taxi directly between a runway and the manufacturing plant.


But first, a case had to be made to key players for the Upstate location to be chosen over another bid in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a high stakes competition with a potentially huge economic impact, including up to four thousand jobs. In the end, the close proximity to the airport and strategic placement by the Atlantic Ocean were too hard to pass up.

Interstate 85 runs past Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, seen at the top of the photo, with BMW’s North American plant, on the right. A road connects BMW with the airport’s large cargo apron in the upper right of this photo.

Local officials had to guarantee available property adjacent to the airport, Airport Commission chairman Roger Milliken said that selling even three hundred acres to BMW would not be enough room for the plant because the property would be locked in by I-85, the airport and a residential area, which would prevent any plant expansion and would also limit the airport’s growth.


Moving fast and with the help of local development companies, state legislation, and with the cooperation of local property owners and realtors, Governor Carroll Campbell and all those involved were able to secure options on more than twelve hundred acres of airport-adjacent property, and the decision was left in BMW’s hands.


Part of the last step of the deal was the lengthening of the GSP runway to facilitate BMW cargo flights (but that’s a story for another day). And thus an incredibly positive relationship was born between GSP and BMW, and BMW and the Upstate.


Next time you’re passing by the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and see the BMW plant, you can share your newfound historical knowledge!


Stay tuned for upcoming construction updates and Flyer Fact Fridays here on the WINGSPAN blog.


Happy travels,

-The Terminal

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