At the beginning of 2017, Ward Vleegen had a short time to make a big impact.
As head of the newly created Transport and Mobility Group, he was charged with building a new division within the much larger AGORIA group – Belgium’s largest employer and trade association.
Vleegen knew what he was doing – he’d been creating collaborations within the automotive industry for more than a decade, but his board and members were serious about building business – not simply joining another network.
The prospect of a U.S. trip was discussed almost from the time the group began in November of 2016.
“My steering committee asked for a very focused approach, and not just a general visit,” Vleegen said.
About the same time, the Upstate SC Alliance, home to BMW’s largest manufacturing and plant as well as the North American headquarters of Michelin, asked SC Connect to help it make inroads into Belgium.
BeneluxConnect reached out to Vleegen and his group. Cautious at first, Vleegen over time warmed to the idea and helped arrange a meeting with members of his group and the Upstate Alliance during their Belgian visit in June.
Gathering at the club’s modern offices in downtown Brussels, the Upstate representatives outlined the scope and depth of South Carolina’s automotive industry, and the opportunities for Belgian ingenuity.
Once that happened, “We could see that the (Belgian) companies that were present were interested in South Carolina,” Vleegen said. “And that, for us, meant ‘okay, we have to move this forward.’”
Through the summer of 2017, Vleegen, the Upstate SC Alliance and SC Connect worked to connect the Transport and Mobility Club to the South Carolina automotive sector.
As a result, members of the Belgian group traveled to the SC Automotive Council’s annual conference in 2018 and presented to state industry leaders on agile manufacturing, one of the group’s specialties. BeneluxConnect – through its sister company SCConnect – prepared an extensive online portfolio for the trip, which you can view here.
Vleegen knows he would have made the contacts within South Carolina sooner or later. But he credits SC Connect with speeding the process by making the personal connection.
“Meeting the people was definitely an added value,” he said. ‘That was a big added value.”