Airplane container firm aims to hire 40 locally
Shipping lag times to and from Albuquerque, N.M, were hamstringing Cargo Composites' growing international business, so company president Tom Pherson went in search of a new headquarters for his airplane container manufacturer.
He toured prominent cities from coast to coast, but as he explained to a full house in the Berkeley County Council Chambers on Thursday, for reasons ranging from the "Southern charm" to Boeing to local economic development officials' hard sell, the Charleston region ended up being the pick.
"From a pure logistics point of view, honestly, L.A. was the best place to be," Pherson said, citing the southern California metropolis' busy seaport and airport. "But from a business point of view, not so."
"Plus, I don't like L.A. that much," he quipped to approving laughter from the audience.
Cargo Composites, which makes 5-by-5-by-7-feet cargo holders for widebody jets, is just the latest aerospace business to set up shop in the region. That trend is expected to accelerate now that the National Labor Relations Board's union-busting case against Boeing is coming to a close and the first South Carolina-assembled Dreamliner is just a few months from delivery.
Pherson said Boeing "serves as an anchor for companies like ours."
"Boeing is not our customer, but their customers are our customers," he said. "And so the people that come to see them hopefully will come to see us. Our goal is, on the first (787) hull flying out of Charleston, to have some of our containers on it."
Pherson has not spoken to Boeing about that possibility yet, but Air India, which is widely expected to pick up the first Dreamliner from North Charleston, is one of 20 airlines sampling Cargo Composites' boxes. Ten others have purchased the containers, according to Pherson, led by Delta Air Lines, with 5,000.
Owned by Advance Composite Structures LLC, Cargo Composites is renovating 32,000 square feet of space in Cainhoy Park off Clements Ferry Road and plans to open by the middle of January. The facility will house corporate offices as well as the company's engineering, aluminum machining, final assembly and shipping functions.
Pherson said he's already hired local engineers, who are training in New Mexico, and expects to hire a total of 40 employees by the end of 2012. Eighteen of the 25 workers in Albuquerque will remain there.
Most containers now in use are aluminum, and have been for three decades, Pherson said. But environmental and durability concerns have led several airlines, especially European carriers, to buy the composite boxes, which can be twice as light. Of the 30,000 in circulation now, Cargo Composites built 14,000, Pherson said.
The company plans to build another 10,000 in 2012 and hopes to soon manufacture bigger boxes -- "half the size of a small house," in Pherson's words -- for use on UPS or FedEx cargo jets.
Cargo Composites will not receive any special tax breaks from the county or state, but ReadySC, the state's workforce training agency, is already helping identify candidates for the future jobs.
Whereas economic development officials in bigger markets paid him little mind, recruiters at the Charleston Regional Development Alliance "treated us like we were something special."
"They're selling this city like you wouldn't believe," he said. "If they weren't working there, I think they'd be selling ShamWows" on late-night TV.
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.