State poised for aviation industry growth

Greenville Online
Jenny Munro
June 15, 2011

Boeing launched its aviation plant last week in North Charleston — and South Carolina is on the cusp of a potential burst of growth in aviation-related industries.

Gov. Nikki Haley, Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt and other economic development officials are attending the Paris Air Show this month, with the aim of helping that potential become reality. They also plan to visit other companies, some in Germany.

“I see this as relationship building,” he said. In fact, the state built a relationship with Boeing through earlier attendance at the air shows, which are held in Paris and the United Kingdom. The show, like auto shows, “is primarily sales and networking.”

Hitt said that Boeing could be the anchor of the aviation industry like BMW Manufacturing Co. is the anchor of the auto industry in the state.

“BMW is one of the reasons Boeing came,” he said. “BMW has a complex product and it has been able to be successful.” That gave the aviation company confidence that South Carolina would be a strong location.

When it comes to anchoring an industry, “we want to do the same kind of thing with Boeing,” he said. In fact, “I think we have a better opportunity in some ways.”

Michelin, a major aviation supplier, is based in Greenville and makes aviation tires in North Carolina. Various aviation OEMs are based in North Carolina and Georgia, supplementing the demand that Boeing provides, he said.

Besides that, South Carolina has a strong military presence throughout the state and several decommissioned air fields that can be used for aviation purposes, Hitt said. Aviation companies display a natural tendency to locate near military concentrations. And South Carolinians are comfortable with aviation because they’re used to planes being around all the time.

While many suppliers probably will try to locate close to Boeing, many also serve North Carolina and Georgia. That could “create greater dispersion” of suppliers throughout South Carolina and cause the company “to maybe have a broader statewide impact.”

Hitt said that Commerce currently is working with a supplier that serves five different aviation companies.

“We’re at the start of this. I think BMW is a very good model for Boeing,” he said, adding that BMW helped attract another supplier to the state last year. “As the host company gets larger, so does the supplier base.”

An educated workforce is always a question when it comes to complex manufacturing, he said, but “when BMW came, nobody knew how to build cars either.” Boeing, which is adding about 45 employees a week, has expressed confidence in the quality of its South Carolina work force.

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