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Saturday, April 28, 2012 - Page updated at 09:30 p.m.
South Carolina is ambitious for more Boeing work
By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — North Charleston showed the world what it can do Friday. And it has plenty of room to grow its aerospace-manufacturing capabilities in the future.
The new Boeing interiors facility opened in December is on Palmetto Commerce Parkway, a four-lane road finished just a year ago. Along the parkway's six-mile length, there are multiple turnouts that lead only to wooded land primed for commercial development.
Beside the Boeing interiors facility, a cluster of businesses has already developed. Next door, Daimler is assembling commercial vans. Across the street, Venture Aerobearings makes bearings for jet engines.
Adjacent to Venture, ground has been broken for a 110,000-square-foot airplane-structures plant for TIGHitco, a supplier to Boeing and other aerospace companies, that will bring 350 new jobs.
That's the first of what North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey hopes will be a growing cluster of aerospace suppliers.
"There are active negotiations going on," he said.
East of the TIGHitco site, a four-mile stretch of the parkway sits largely empty and awaiting development, 20 minutes' drive from Boeing's final assembly plant.
Summey, whose sumptuous wood-paneled office has a view of the Boeing final assembly plant in the distance, said the parkway manufacturing space is for suppliers that don't need to be very close to the plant.
For any that do, or for the airplane maker itself, there's some 400 acres of prime land near the main Boeing complex by the airport, he said.
In contrast, the available land around Boeing's Everett plant is more limited, with only 75 acres on the west side of the runway undeveloped. Boeing is studying how to squeeze more work into its Everett footprint and possibly expand it.
Summey believes South Carolina will have a prime shot at being Boeing's choice of location for future jets.
"Boeing is going to make these decisions based on profitability. I think that drives corporate America," he said.
On Friday, Marco Cavazzoni, Boeing's general manager of the final assembly center, said the construction of the $750 million building came in seven months ahead of schedule. And he praised the state's workforce-training program — which gives up to 24 weeks of skills training to Boeing hires.
Summey said Trident Technical College, which hosts the Boeing training, is in line for a building dedicated to aerospace.
"It's up to us, like any other region of the country, to convince (Boeing) we can meet their needs," Summey said.
Indeed, the mayor sees an opportunity closer even than the next all-new Boeing jet. The airplane maker is also weighing the launch of a version of its large 777 jetliner that would feature very long wings made from carbon-fiber-reinforced composite plastic.
Boeing's South Carolina complex, which makes and assembles only composites, must be considered a possible location for a plant to build the wing of that plane, known as 777X.
"We are one of several states that probably would be in the running," said Summey.
And if there are any opportunities to build new Boeing jets, he said, the state of South Carolina could come through with more financial incentives if needed, despite severe state budget cuts in recent years under Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
"After all the cuts, last year (South Carolina legislators) somehow found a hidden $1 billion," said Summey, with a laugh. "It's there. They are very creative."
State Rep. Harry "Chip" Limehouse, vice chairman of the state's Ways and Means Committee, agreed.
"We'd be foolish not to try to accommodate that," said Limehouse. "We hope we're poised to become an aerospace cluster."
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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