Thousands more jobs may follow Boeing

Thousands of jobs are expected in the vapor trail that follows the arrival of a new Boeing assembly plant in North Charleston.

Because the Chicago-based aircraft maker keeps a lean inventory, industry experts said suppliers will need to locate in South Carolina for fast shipments.

"You'll get a good start to an aerospace cluster," said Scott Hamilton, a Seattle-area aviation-industry analyst.

South Carolina on Wednesday won a new assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner after state lawmakers approved an incentives package that included $170 million in bonds and a number of tax breaks. Gov. Mark Sanford will sign the incentives at a ceremony today in North Charleston.

Boeing also was considering the Seattle suburb of Everett, Wash., home to the company's original 787 assembly plant. But the aircraft maker chose the East Coast site after talks broke down between the Machinists union in Washington and company officials.

South Carolina is already home to nearly 80 Boeing suppliers and vendors, according to its corporate Web site.

Despite making the 787's rear fuselage plant in North Charleston, many of the suppliers listed said they do not work on the Dreamliner, suggesting opportunities for companies to come to support the new assembly line.

The line is expected to employ 3,800 by the middle of the next decade, but its arrival has sparked talk of attracting the number of total jobs created by state's other major big economic-development coup of the past 20 years, BMW.

Since picking a manufacturing site in Greer, the German automaker supports 23,050 jobs in the state - though it employs just about 5,000 at the plant, according to a study released last year by USC economic researchers.

But one industry analyst cautioned that a BMW-size boom could be difficult to reach. Because of the decentralized way Boeing is building the 787, more work is being done around the country, and fewer suppliers are needed near the final assembly plant in North Charleston.

"It's extremely wishful thinking," said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with the Teal Group outside Washington, D.C.

None of the experts interviewed nor Boeing would put an estimate on how many suppliers and jobs could come to South Carolina as a result of the new assembly line.

In the Seattle area, each Boeing job accounts for four indirect jobs, Hamilton said. The Seattle-area is home to 250 businesses that serve assembly lines for six aircraft, he said.

In the Lowcountry, a number of suppliers will open satellite or permanent offices near North Charleston to give quick support to Boeing, said Brian McDermott, vice president of supplier management at the Aerospace Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-area trade group.

And even though Boeing will assemble three planes a month in Charleston, as opposed to the 160,000 vehicles BMW can make annually, the aircraft maker needs supplies quickly because, "their facilities are lean and they want things to happen quickly," McDermott said,

More aviation work has come to the South as Boeing and other aircraft makers have hired outside companies to do more of their work, he said.

"That has made for more pockets of aviation industry around the country," McDermott said. "Your area will grow."

But it will take time, especially if judged by BMW.

"It took a decade to have the whole (BMW) network built out," USC economist Doug Woodward said. "This is not going to happen overnight."

The first job creation will come from building the assembly plant, which should involve thousands of jobs, Woodward said. As a comparison, a planned $750 million expansion at BMW will account for 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the USC study Woodward co-authored.

"This will have BMW-style impact," he said of Boeing.

Woodward said he could envision some Boeing suppliers even finding other customers outside of aviation, such as fiberglass makers.

"You will get to build the expertise," said Woodward, who is conducting an economic-impact study for Boeing. "This is putting us on the cutting edge of technology."