Boeing, air base, airport a joint jobs powerhouse

Boeing Co. began assembling 787s at its Charleston International Airport campus over the summer.

Fueled by Boeing Co.'s growth, Charleston International Airport and the region's aviation industry create a juggernaut of jobs and money for the local economy, according to a study released Thursday.

The airport, the Air Force base and Boeing's manufacturing complex together pump nearly $7 billion into the three-county area and support more than 34,000 jobs locally, or 12 percent of the total, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's Center for Business Research reported.

Also, the aviation industry accounts for $2 billion in pay for local workers, the study said.

"When we look at the total impact, we have some pretty outstanding numbers," said Mary Graham, the chamber's vice president of business advocacy. "You see the enormous impact."

The $6.8 billion figure is roughly equal to the State Ports Authority's importance to jobs and the region's economy, Graham said. The SPA pumps about $7 billion into the area, she said.

The addition of Boeing, which is building the 787 Dreamliner and parts for the new jet on leased airport land, gave the aviation industry a huge lift, Graham added.

"It's a great illustration of trying to grow the aerospace cluster," she said. "And it's only going to get bigger."

Boeing employs about 5,000 workers at its campus off International Boulevard, and it created the biggest splash among the aviation sectors that researchers studied.

The company's local presence sustains more than 17,000 jobs and spurs more than $4.6 billion in economic activity, including spin-off jobs and direct spending by its North Charleston employees, the report said.

The nearby Air Force base, which owns the runways at Charleston International, employs more workers than Boeing -- about 6,400 active-duty and civilian workers -- but the spin-off is less than that of a major manufacturer.

Still, the base generates a total of 10,700 jobs and brings more than $1.4 billion to the Charleston economy, Graham said. The study did not include other military facilities.

The airport and its tenants create 2,435 jobs, while air-traveling visitors, who average a three-night stay, account for another 4,290 jobs as they spend $309 million directly each year on hotels, restaurants, shopping and services, according to the study.

All told, the airport's economic impact was found to be about $710 million.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority commissioned the study ahead of a $150 million makeover planned for Charleston International.

"Since we are getting ready to spend a lot of money on the airport, we thought it was important to quantify the positive economic impact on the community," said Sue Steven, airports director.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or on Twitter at @warrenlancewise.