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Ford Graham heads to Munich to lead Commerce's European office

Posted: February 21, 2012 3:42 p.m.
Updated: February 22, 2012 5:00 a.m.
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Ford Graham on a previous S.C. Department of Commerce trip to Madrid, Spain.

A Camden son will be heading to Munich, Germany, this summer to head up the S.C. Department of Commerce’s European office. Ford Graham will spearhead Commerce’s international recruitment efforts on the continent.

Graham, currently the agency’s director of international investment, has already been responsible for Commerce’s international recruiting strategy as well as leading the department’s large-scale development efforts.

He is a son of Art and Isla Graham of Camden and brother of Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham.

In an exclusive interview at the Chronicle-Independent early Friday afternoon, Graham said the four years he’s spent with Commerce have prepared him to head the department’s office in Europe.

“I have significant experience visiting companies from a variety of countries,” Graham said. “Under Secretary (Bobby) Hitt, we’ve changed focus to international recruitment and helping larger firms already in South Carolina expand.”

Graham provided examples: Fuji, ZF (an automobile transmission manufacturer) and, of course, BMW.

“They (BMW) have suppliers spread out all over the globe,” he said. “We’re going to try to get them to come here to South Carolina.”

Having already traveled so much for Commerce, Graham’s appointment was a “logical fit,” he said Hitt told him.

In fact, Graham’s been to Munich quite a bit lately -- at least once a month during the past six months. Traveling won’t end just because he’s moving to Munich. Graham said he’ll travel to other European nations, including the United Kingdom, France and Spain.

“There’s a lot of interest from Spain. They’ve been focused at home up ‘till now, but they’re thinking about diversifying to America as an entry into the Mexican and Canadian markets. The European economy is down; however, companies are trying to save money and have the wherewithal to invest in other countries and are looking at the U.S.,” Graham said.

They already are, he said.

According to Graham, between 2007 and 2011, 30 percent of new jobs created in South Carolina were from European companies. In 2011 alone, he said, European companies created 50 percent of new jobs in the state. That is a national trend, Graham said.

“The exchange rate plays a big part into that. It’s cheaper for them to do business here and America is a big market,” he said.

Graham last visited Munich two weeks ago, in the middle of what is turning out to be one of Europe’s worst winters of recent years.

“It was -2 degrees,” he said, noting he’ll miss South Carolina’s more moderate temperatures. “It’s a beautiful city and it’s easy to get from Munich to other cities in Europe.”

Not to mention BMW and Siemens are both headquartered there, Graham noted.

He said Commerce has maintained the Europe office for 30 years. The last 10 in Munich, and Frankfurt, Germany, before that.

Hitt expressed confidence in Graham and his new role.

“Ford Graham’s recruitment and international experience will help Commerce’s efforts to recruit in Europe,” Hitt sad. “A number of our state’s largest employers are international companies, so his presence in Europe will have a real impact.”

The agency said Graham has been responsible for more than 60 projects statewide, resulting in commitments of more than 6,500 new jobs and $2.6 billion in new investment. Prior to Commerce, Graham worked as general counsel for a real estate investment firm; and served as a circuit court law clerk, including in the 5th circuit which includes Kershaw and Richland counties. He received juris doctor and international masters of business administration degrees from the University of South Carolina. Graham earned his undergraduate degree from Tulane University in New Orleans where he was elected student body president.

In 2011, he was recognized by The State newspaper as one of the “20 Under 40” emerging business leaders. Graham continues to be heavily involved in the community as a board member in Indian Waters Council’s Three Rivers Scout District and as immediate past president of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Carolina.

Graham said he is looking forward to learning German, as well as other languages.

“But, most of all, I’m looking forward to adjusting the way we operate that office to not just focus on Germany. There are other opportunities over there to tap into -- to have a larger net, so to speak -- and in the most economical way possible. I’m also looking forward to the challenge of living abroad,” Graham said.

He won’t be alone. His wife and son, who is attending first grade right now, will go with him. It will be a change not only from Columbia, where they live now, but from Camden where he grew up and still has family.

It’s going to be hard without the family. My parents and brother are here; my sister’s up in Asheville (N.C.),” he said.

Graham said he’ll miss South Carolina barbecue and boiled peanuts.

Some of the Munich staff visited South Carolina for the first time recently. Graham said they got their first taste of boiled peanuts recently and appeared to enjoy them.

“You can’t get boiled peanuts in Germany,” Graham said.

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