Boeing's commitment to North Charleston could kickstart economic recovery in South Carolina, a leading economist said Wednesday.
And it could buff up the state's tarnished national image after being the butt of jokes for months because of Gov. Mark Sanford's extramarital affair and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst.
"If Mark Sanford goes off to Argentina, people might laugh at us," USC economist Doug Woodward said. "But what they are seeing now is what's important. It's going to be a story that resonates for decades, rather than the political stories that have been circulating recently."
Woodward called the Chicago-based aircraft maker's decision to locate a second assembly line in North Charleston "comparable to BMW" - the transformational 1992 announcement that the German automaker was coming to the Upstate.
"This is going to change perceptions" of South Carolina, he said. "People will view us as a place where the economic recovery is taking hold."
Woodward added that because the Boeing brand is so recognizable worldwide, it will boost the state's efforts to recruit other industries.
"It's a momentous announcement in that regard," he said. "Boeing and BMW say one thing: Quality. There is something different about them because people recognize the brands. It's going to put South Carolina on the map."
Although the estimated 3,800 or more jobs will be located in the Lowcountry, officials predicted the benefits will ripple throughout the state.
Not only will the state's coffers swell from an increase in income, property and sales tax revenues, but business could flow to South Carolina aerospace suppliers.
"This kind of thing has a significant multiplier," said Lewis Gossett, president and CEO of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance. "There will be hundreds and thousands more jobs in the supply chain. But what you will probably see with Boeing, like BMW, is it will take time to fully realize that."
"You will see a knock-off effect that will take place over time. BMW's happened over time. And, it turned out, it was bigger than they promised."
BMW Manufacturing Co. has pumped more than $8.8 billion into South Carolina's economy. And for each job created at the company's Upstate facility, 4.3 jobs are created throughout the state, according to a September 2008 study by USC's Moore School of Business.
But at least one lawmaker was less than euphoric about Boeing's benefit to the rest of the state.
Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, whose district will be home to the new Boeing line, said Wednesday he doubts the project will have a statewide impact.
"Yes, 3,800 jobs is a lot of jobs for Charleston," he said. "But I think it's just good for the Lowcountry, not the whole state."
Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, a former member of the Charleston County Council who helped pull together the Boeing land deal three years ago, disagreed.
"You now have BMW in the Upstate, Boeing on the coast," he said. "South Carolina is becoming a transportation hub."
On Wednesday, lawmakers unanimously approved a massive package that allows the state to spend up to $170 million on economic development bonds for a single project. The package also provides sales-tax breaks on construction materials, computer equipment and fuel for test flights and transporting aircraft.
Woodward said the size of package was "a no-brainer."
But determining the actual economic impact of the announcement was difficult Wednesday.
Woodward said he built the economic impact study for Boeing, but had not been cleared by the company to release it Wednesday night.
And while The State last week called more than a dozen South Carolina businesses listed on Boeing's Web site as its suppliers, few would comment.
"I'm not surprised," the manufacturers alliance's Gossett said. "These people work in a very competitive environment. No one wants to be the one who says something stupid in the newspaper" and jeopardizes the deal.
Secretary of Commerce Joe Taylor and Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman are credited with doing most of the heavy lifting in the deal. But Sanford could bask in the glow.
"One of the big knocks on him - aside from the Argentina business - is that he's put very little (effort) into economic development," said Neal Thigpen, political science professor emeritus at Francis Marion University. "Anything right now ... on his watch might make some people look more favorably on him. And this is the biggest thing on his watch."
Some of the largest economic development announcements in terms of jobs and investment over the past two decades:
1989 - Nan Ya Plastics, Lake City: $200 million; 400 jobs
1991 - Roche Carolina, Florence: $300 million; 200 jobs
1992 - BMW Manufacturing, Greer: $500 million; 2,000 jobs
1996 - U.S. Food Services, Fort Mill: $35 million; 500 jobs
1997 - Bridgestone-Firestone South Carolina, Graniteville: $435 million; 800 jobs
1998 - PBR Columbia LLC, West Columbia: $104 million; 312 jobs
1999 - Haier America Refrigerator Co., Camden: $30 million, 300 jobs
2001 - Ross Stores Distribution, Fort Mill: $90 million; 1,000 jobs
2001 - Target Corp., Lugoff: $85 million; 1,000 jobs
2003 - Trane Co., Blythewood: $30 million; 400 jobs
2004 - Global Aeronautica, North Charleston: $566 million; 645 jobs
2004 - Walgreens, Anderson: $175 million; 450 jobs
2004 - Dollar General, Jonesville: $60 million; 725 jobs
2006 - Haier America, Camden: $150 million; 1,000 jobs
2007 - Adidas Group, Spartanburg County: $150 million; 1,200 jobs
2007 - Google, Berkeley County: $600 million; 200 jobs
2008 - BMW, Greer: $750 million; 500 jobs
SOURCE: S.C. Commerce Department