Update: Boeing S.C. confirms North Charleston expansion

  • Posted: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 12:10 a.m., Updated: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 1:41 p.m.
Boeing Co. has informed the governor’s office and lawmakers that it will invest another $1 billion and add at least 2,000 jobs at its North Charleston 787 campus by 2020. Buy this photo

Boeing Co. said today it will invest another $1 billion and add at least 2,000 jobs at its North Charleston 787 campus by 2020, citing steep demand for commercial airplanes over the next two decades.

The company’s “phase two” growth plans are expected to be part of in a bill to be introduced around noon in the General Assembly in Columbia.

The Post and Courier reported the deal today.

“We do intend to grow,” said Jack Jones, Boeing South Carolina vice president and general manager.

Jones briefly addressed the expansion in his opening remarks at an aerospace conference taking place at Charleston Place today.

“I understand we’re in the news this morning,” Jones said.

It’s no secret that Boeing has had growth on its mind, but it has declined to specify what those plans were. Last year, the Chicago-based company bought the S.C. Research Authority office complex next to its existing 787 campus, which has about 6,000 workers. More recently, it has been in serious talks with Charleston International Airport about buying 320 acres across the road from its local factories.

It also has locked up the rights to purchase another 765 acres.

“This is an expansion on a whole new level,” Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday.

“I think what we’re seeing is a new phase of building airplanes in South Carolina,” Haley told The Post and Courier.

Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger confirmed the growth plan today.

“Since 2009, Boeing has invested more than $1 billion in land, facilities, infrastructure and tooling in South Carolina, and today we have more than 6,000 teammates working at the Boeing sites in the state,” Eslinger told the Associated Press. “With unprecedented demand for commercial airplanes including a forecast of another 34,000 airplanes required over the next 20 years Boeing is positioned for significant and sustained growth in the years ahead.”

While details remain scant, lawmakers have been told the company will establish an information technology “center of excellence” in North Charleston that would create about 1,000 jobs. The rest would be made up of 787 engineers and production employees.

An operations center for the 747 Dreamlifter cargo jet that delivers 787 components and a new paint facility also are part of the proposal.

“I believe you’ll see they’ll be adding other enterprises,” said state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, who stressed “there’s no talk” about building an entirely different aircraft in North Charleston.

Hitt also said the state in discussions with Boeing suppliers that are interested in setting up operations in South Carolina to be closer to the 787 assembly plant.

“This has statewide benefits,” Hitt said.

Boeing assembles the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston and Everett, Wash.

It is pushing to boost its production rate in South Carolina to three a month by the end of the year, but the latest expansion suggests that number will go higher.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, and state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said they will co-sponsor a bill providing $120 million to offset some of Boeing’s upfront expansion costs, such as site preparation work, road improvements and utility expenses. The money would be raised by selling state-backed bonds, they said Monday.

Both lawmakers expect the bill to pass and for Haley to sign it into law.

“The takeaway is that Boeing is doing very well in South Carolina, and South Carolina is doing very well because of Boeing,” Harrell said. “So both of us want to expand its presence dramatically.”

He said the company is looking past the battery issues that have grounded the 787 since January. Boeing said Friday that a demonstration flight that day marked the completion of the testing required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“My goodness, Boeing is a company that thinks decades into the future, so the battery issue is something they’ll have to deal with, but they’re planning way beyond that right now,” Harrell said.

Haley and Harrell predicted that the job and investment estimates Boeing has provided are conservative based on its past track record in South Carolina.

Boeing announced in late 2009 that North Charleston would become the site of its first commercial aircraft assembly plant outside of Washington state. By that point, Boeing had already purchased a pair of troubled 787 fuselage suppliers that had built factories at the airport.

In all, it committed to invest $750 million and create 3,600 jobs in exchange for an incentives package valued at $450 million.

“As it turned out, Boeing seriously under promised and over delivered,” Harrell said.

Leatherman, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the company and the state have been talking about its growth plans informally as far back as 2010.

The terms of “phase two” expansion began to take shape about three weeks ago. Leatherman, who helped craft the original legislation that landed Boeing’s assembly plant, said he has “long suspected” the company would add onto its South Carolina operations.

“I didn’t realize it would come quite this fast,” he said.

Leatherman also called the projection of 2,000 jobs as low.

“Frankly, I suspect 2,000 more to follow,” he said.



Brendan Kearney of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.

Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.

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