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AAI Services to invest more than $7M in Goose Creek site

Mar. 1, 2005
Charleston Post and Courier
By John P. McDermott
A Summerville defense contractor that's getting a lift from sales of its Air Force simulators is investing more than $7 million in Berkeley County and adding 50 high-paying jobs to its ranks.

AAI Services Corp., a unit of Hunt Valley, Md.-based AAI Corp., recently paid $5 million for the mothballed Corning Inc. building in Crowfield Corporate Center. It plans to start moving its high-tech operations to the Goose Creek site this summer, after it completes some refurbishments.

AAI's local unit designs software and hardware systems for devices that replicate the cockpit and other areas of the C-17 transport jet. The Air Force uses the company's high-tech simulators for hands-on maintenance training.

AAI Services said it needs more space and more technicians because it is expanding its C-17 business as more of the cargo jets go into service. Also, the company was picked to design and build a new line of maintenance simulators based on Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-22 Raptor, said Mike Boden, an executive vice president of AAI Corp.

"The business has done very well," Boden said.

Privately held AAI Services set up shop in Summerville in November 1997 with 25 workers and a single contract for C-17 work at Charleston Air Force Base. It is now juggling various government work orders totaling more than $300 million, Boden said.

The company said its local workers earn an average of $52,000 a year. Most of the new jobs that will be filled over the next few months are highly technical, with some requiring degrees in mechanical, software or electrical engineering, said David Warner, AAI Services' top local executive.

"We hire a lot of retirees from the Air Force base," Warner said.

The company's new corporate home in Goose Creek will provide the city with a nice tax boost, not to mention bragging rights, said Mayor Mike Heitzel. "Is it good for our egos or what?" Heitzel said.

Business recruiting officials said AAI's expansion furthers the broader goals of increasing local wages and establishing a cluster of aviation businesses around the $560 million Vought-Alenia aerospace plant being built near Charleston International Airport.

The company said it considered sites in at least two other East Coast states, but it wanted to stay in the Charleston region to retain its employees. It also got a good deal on the Corning plant.

Corning opened the highly specialized building in 1997 to make high-performance glass for the semiconductor industry. It closed the plant a year ago this month, transferring production to other manufacturing locations, blaming the shutdown on a slowdown in semiconductor demand.

The state Commerce Department said AAI Services has been approved for a standard tax credit it offers expanding businesses. The credit for Berkeley County is $1,500 for each new job.
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