Billion-dollar Boeing supplier didn't consider Charleston region
One of Boeing Co.'s biggest suppliers never seriously considered the Charleston area for its new plant, though the aerospace giant played a huge role in the company's decision to build in the Upstate, state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said Wednesday.
Tokyo-based Toray Industries announced Tuesday it will build a $1 billion carbon fiber-making facility in Spartanburg County, nearly 200 miles from the 787 jet-making campus in North Charleston.
"The Lowcountry was never in their sights," Hitt said. "Never in the last three years. ... Everything can't be located in one place. Not every company that does aerospace is going to locate in the Charleston area or in South Carolina."
Logistics and the labor force were key factors in the company's decision to go to the Upstate, Hitt said. "A substantial need for water and wastewater" also played a part, he added.
"It's a fairly intense manufacturing process," Hitt said.
Toray, one of the largest producers of carbon fiber in the world, will make its products from start to finish at the 400-acre site, the only place in the U.S. to do that, Hitt said. It will employ 500 workers over the next 10 years.
Carbon fiber is used in an array of applications, including the aerospace industry.
Boeing South Carolina called Toray "an important supplier" for its plane-making operations. The 787 is made largely from lightweight carbon fiber.
"We support the company's proactive efforts in regard to Boeing's planned rates of more than 10 787 Dreamliners per month," Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said.
Toray didn't start considering the Palmetto State seriously for the site until Boeing announced last spring it will nearly double its investment at its North Charleston campus, Hitt said. Boeing plans to add another $1 billion to its local operations by 2020.
"It increased in intensity after Boeing's announcement last year," Hitt said of Toray's interest in the state.
South Carolina's relationship with Toray budded in 2011 during the Paris Air Show, a trip denounced by some critics as a junket for the then recently elected Gov. Nikki Haley and an entourage of more than two dozen.
At the time, the state redacted documents showing what companies the governor met during her visit abroad. A heavily redacted itinerary released Wednesday shows Toray Industries was one of them.
"We continued to talk to them about coming here," Hitt said. "We kept the governor briefed along the way."
Talks continued over the next two years, but the Boeing announcement last spring was "the trigger," Hitt said.
As for any aerospace-related companies that might be looking at the Charleston area, Hitt would only say the state works with projects all the time.
About one-third of the state's more than 230 aerospace and aviation-related companies are in the three-county Charleston region, Commerce Department spokeswoman Allison Skipper said.
Boeing is currently racing to build 10 Dreamliners a month to catch up on a backlog of nearly 1,000 orders by airlines worldwide. The goal is for three-a-month to be built in North Charleston by mid-summer. The rest will be built in Everett, Wash., Boeing's airplane-making hub. The rate will ramp up to 12 a month in two years and 14 a month by 2019.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.