Boeing’s airplanes are confined to its sprawling manufacturing campus near Charleston International Airport.
But its employees are certainly more visible at the businesses surrounding the aerospace giant’s 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston.
From restaurants to barbershops and hotels, many of the more than 6,000 employees at the newly minted passenger jet factory off International Boulevard can be seen sporting the Boeing insignia on their shirts at diners, gas stations, hotel lobbies and other businesses flanking the massive plant.
In all, the payroll from Boeing trickles through the Charleston region with nearly a $5 billion impact, according to a study last fall from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
The study, based on 5,000 employees at the time, estimated the economic impact at $4.6 billion, sustaining another 12,000 jobs in the region. Boeing now has more than 6,000 workers in North Charleston.
Dave Cobbs sees a lot of them.
Over the last two years, many of the curls and clippings in his Trimsetterz Barber Shop and Salon in the nearby McCall Center on International Boulevard belonged to Boeing employees.
“We get a whole lot of business from over there,” Cobbs said as he snipped away at a customer’s hair in his shop.
Cobbs estimates 30 percent of his business is directly related to Boeing’s presence just down the street, and his decision to relocate his shop to McCall Center two years ago was greatly influenced by the proximity of the airplane manufacturer.
“Fifty percent of my decision to come here was because of Boeing,” said Cobbs, who has been cutting hair for more than nine years. “This is a growing area with all the new hotels, too.”
Many of his customers stop by the nearby Starbucks coffee shop before walking over for a trim.
“We should have stock in Starbucks,” he said with a chuckle. “They go over there first, and they always bring a cup in here.”
A few doors down, Boeing quality specialist Mitch McDougal walked out of Big Billy’s Burger Joint after lunch and jumped on his motorcycle to head back to work.
“We come here almost every day,” he said, before wheeling away.
Inside, general manager Brian Sullivan estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of his business comes from the airplane builder.
Several tables in the restaurant filled with Boeing workers served as a testament to the amount of business the massive industry brings in. They declined to be interviewed.
“After they get off work in the afternoon, a lot of Boeing employees come over here,” Sullivan said. “It’s a big help at happy hour.”
Since many have a short break for lunch, he fields many call-in orders ahead of their arrival.
“Boeing has definitely made this a great location,” Sullivan said. “It’s a great asset for the area too.”
At Buffalo Wild Wings near Tanger Outlet Center, Boeing employees love to hang out there too, restaurant workers said.
“You can’t get in here at happy hour,” said Mark Puckett, president of ACI Holdings, the franchise owner for two Buffalo Wild Wings in the Charleston market.
“We’ve seen growth every year since we opened in 2007,” he said. “Since Boeing decided to come to Charleston, we’ve had double-digit sales growth year over year. We are getting a huge return on Boeing.”
Hotels around the plant at Charleston International Airport benefit as well.
“Boeing’s presence in North Charleston has been instrumental in our ability to achieve growth year over year,” said Cori Lovern, general manager of Homewood Suites by Hilton across from North Charleston’s convention center complex. “We are grateful to have been the home away from home for many of Boeing’s team members as they relocated to our area. The Boeing plant has definitely been a market driver in this area.”
Just down the street and even closer to Boeing sit a Holiday Inn and a Hilton Garden Inn, two of the four local properties of Lowcountry Hotels. Operations director Dan Blumenstock said there is no question that Boeing has had a direct impact on business.
“Whether its one of our hotels or others, you see a lot of people coming in and out with Boeing shirts on,” he said. “Anybody can see the foot traffic.”
Blumenstock couldn’t estimate the percentage of business Boeing brings to the hotel group because the account is lumped in with other national accounts, but he said Boeing generates bookings in Charleston from its many divisions and its presence lifted Charleston out of the recession more quickly.
“It would not have been as rapid as it was if they weren’t here,” Blumenstock said.
And the Boeing effect on the local economy may only just be beginning.
“I think we are just starting to see the impact,” said Mary Graham, a chamber senior vice president who worked on the Boeing economic impact analysis as part of an overall airport complex study.
“The impact of the facility on the region is enormous,” Graham said. “The spending by the employees equals that of the visitor impact on the local tourist market.”
Yet to be realized will be the effect of international visitors coming to Charleston to pick up their planes and do business with Boeing.
Not only will they eat in local restaurants and stay in local hotels, but “those high-level visitors may see the region and decide to bring their operation here too,” Graham said.
Blumenstock, who also serves as chairman of the Travel Council with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, echoed her remarks.
“As we move forward, we will see large groups and meetings from the aeronautical world coming to Charleston,” said Blumenstock. “I think we are seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.