Politics & Government

SC taxpayers foot smaller travel bill, but what will they get for $49K London trip?

It cost S.C. taxpayers roughly half as much to send S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and other state officials across the pond for an international air show in hopes of luring new investment in the state’s aerospace industry compared to an earlier trip by then-Gov. Nikki Haley.

Whether McMaster’s trip will produce any jobs or new or expanded plants has yet to be seen.

“The goal of our attendance at (the) Farnborough International Airshow is to leverage the event as an economic tool to promote South Carolina’s business climate, by solidifying relationships with prospects in the aerospace industry and connecting with existing aerospace companies,” S.C. Commerce Department spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell said in an email.

From 2011 to 2017, aerospace firms announced about $2.5 billion in investment and more than 5,100 new jobs in South Carolina.

“We have seen how these international trips can be fruitful,” Fairwell wrote, noting a meeting between Haley and Toray executives at the 2011 Paris air show led to that company’s decision to build a $1 billion Spartanburg plant.

South Carolina is home to more than 400 aerospace-related companies and suppliers, and the industry employs more than 108,000, including the state’s military installations.

Taxpayers paid out a little more than $49,000 to send a 15-member delegation, led by the Commerce Department and McMaster, to the United Kingdom for the biennial Farnborough International Airshow in July, according to a listing of expenses.

That compares to nearly $145,000 paid by taxpayers for the air show in 2016 and $97,000 in 2012, when then-Gov. Haley attended. Figures for a 2014 air-show trip were not readily available.

Nearly $42,000 of the $49,000 cost this year was for airfare, hotel rooms, meals and other travel expenses for conference participants. Other costs listed included group transportation, marketing materials and supplies, and conference fees, according to the Commerce Department.

The governor accounted for $3,940 of the cost for the four-day trip to England.

S.C. first lady Peggy McMaster accompanied the governor but paid her own expenses, state officials said.

Haley’s trip to the Farnborough International Airshow outside London in July 2012 cost $97,000. However, more than $59,000 of that money went to pay for an exhibit at the show, according to records. About $158,000 in tax dollars was spent on a trip to a Paris air show in 2011, which generated some public outcry.

Haley did not attend the 2016 airshow in the United Kingdom.

McMaster’s trip cost less because he traveled with a smaller entourage than Haley, and more private money was used to pay for the trip’s costs.

Palmetto Partners, a cooperative of major economic development groups in the state, contributed nearly $104,000 for a booth, reception and other air show-related costs that otherwise would have been paid by taxpayers, according to the Commerce Department.

“Governor McMaster went to the … air show to continue the economic development efforts that have resulted in nearly 23,000 new jobs and nearly $7.7 billion in capital invest that he’s announced since taking office,” McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said. “The governor wants to make sure the international business community knows what South Carolina has to offer and that the state is open for business.”

Symmes and the Commerce Department would not disclose which companies McMaster and S.C. officials met with during the United Kingdom event, citing the sensitive nature of ongoing business negotiations.

“At this time, those conversations will remain confidential, as with every potential Commerce project,” Symmes said, adding the governor “is absolutely optimistic” the trip will result in investments and jobs coming to the state, as it has in past years.

Tom Barton: 803-771-8304, @tjbarton83
Related stories from The State in Columbia SC