South Carolina is the new “it” state for the aerospace industry because of its anti-union stance and the new Boeing assembly plant in North Charleston, Gov. Nikki Haley told reporters Tuesday during a conference call from an international air show in London.
“South Carolina continues to be the buzz because of Boeing,” Haley said from the weeklong Farnborough International Airshow. “And that’s a good thing … We got in front of a lot of suppliers.”
The air show alternates each year with Paris as the world’s largest gathering of aircraft buyers, sellers and suppliers. Delegations from U.S. states and other governments also flock to the show to mingle and meet with aerospace executives hoping to attract their plants and the jobs they create.
Haley is leading a pared-down delegation to the show after she was criticized last year for what some considered a lavish trip. The delegation included 28 people and cost $158,000. This year the contingent is 25 people and the expected tab $100,000.
“We … looked back at how Commerce conducted the visit last year and we revisited what can be done better,” she said. “Less money was spent. Less people went. Less resources were used and more private money was brought into the mix for the air show. What I can tell you is that the meetings we have had here have been valuable.”
Haley said the S.C. Department of Commerce has conducted about 50 meetings with companies, hoping that the relationships built will lead to some of them migrating or expanding to the state. The governor said she attended about 15 of those, many with chief executives.
Although no deals were closed, Haley said many executives were impressed with South Carolina because it is home to Boeing and because of the Airbus plant being built in nearby Alabama. Charleston’s port and the state’s right-to-work laws also impressed the executives, she said.
“The cost of doing business in South Carolina is so much lower than other states,” she said. “You don’t have to conform to our work force; our work force conforms to you.”
Boeing employs about 6,000 people in South Carolina and has completed a second 787 Dreamliner jet at its new North Charleston plant. It hopes to eventually build 3.5 of the fuel-efficient, long-distance passenger jets per month. As it reaches that goal, the company will need more materials and support from its suppliers, which state officials hope to attract to South Carolina.
Boeing reportedly picked up orders for 175 of its larger 737s, valued at $16.4 billion, on the first two days of the Farnborough show. More orders will likely follow.
Haley predicted some suppliers will choose to locate in the state to be close to Boeing’s North Charleston assembly plant. Already, she noted, the state’s aerospace industry employs 20,000 people.
During the show, she met with GKN, a British company that has announced a $38 million manufacturing plant in Orangeburg that is expected to generate more than 250 jobs over the next six years.
“This is just the start of what is going to be a huge industry across the country and we want South Carolina to be in the forefront,” she said.
This year Haley, who was expected to fly home this morning, is traveling with only one staffer instead of two. First gentleman Michael Haley, who paid his own way last year, is staying home. Two SLED security guards – the same number as last year – also are traveling with the governor.
Commerce also lowered the number of people it sent to the show to seven from eight – which includes a recruiter and two interns from its Munich office. The delegation is being led by Deputy Commerce Secretary George Patrick, a former Air Force general, rather than agency chief Bobby Hitt, because of Patrick’s experience in the aerospace field, Hitt said.
The number of people attending from regional economic alliances grew to 14 from 13, although some may send additional people during the week to “tag team,” a Commerce spokesman said. The State Ports Authority representative stayed home this year.
Spokesmen for both Haley and the Commerce Department said that a full accounting of expenses will be made public when the show is over. The estimated $100,000 will include state, regional and private money, they said.
“The taxpayer expense will be less than last year,” commerce spokeswoman Amy Love wrote in an email from London.
She noted that last year’s $158,000 total was paid by Commerce and various state agencies that attended the conference, such as SLED, the Ports Authority and the eight regional economic development alliances.