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Boeing dropped several hundred jobs in SC but increased employment overall

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Most of Boeing Co.'s North Charleston workers are assigned to the 787 Dreamliner program at the airport. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Boeing Co. has nearly 500 fewer employees in South Carolina now compared to a year ago but, across the company, the aerospace giant added jobs during 2019, according to an annual update.

Boeing reported having 6,869 workers in the Palmetto State at the beginning of 2020, according to employment data released last week. That’s 474 fewer from the same period last year.

The planemaker, which builds its 787 Dreamliner jet and supports other commercial aircraft programs at several sites in North Charleston, is still Charleston County's largest private-sector employer. The second-largest is health-care provider Roper St. Francis, which employs about 5,900.

Across all of Boeing's operations, more than 8,000 jobs were added during 2019, and every state where Boeing specifies its number of employees — except for South Carolina — saw a net gain in workers.

The company did not specify a reason for the drop in its South Carolina payroll. Some changes could be attributed to workers transferring out of state, retiring or taking new jobs.

"Much of our employee growth and movement between business units can be attributed to acquisitions, the company's continuing strategy to integrate existing subsidiaries and contract labor, and functional realignments," Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Libba Holland said in a statement. 

In Washington state, where Boeing was once headquartered and employs the largest number of workers, the company added about 2,000 people to its headcount.

In Missouri, Boeing's defense hub, close to 1,200 jobs were added over 2019.

The smallest increase was in Alabama, where ranks grew by just about a dozen to reach a total of 3,062.

The company's attrition rate across all parts of the business was 6.2 percent last year. 

By far, the largest share of Chicago-based Boeing’s employment increase in 2019 came in the corporate sector, which added more jobs than the net increase for the company overall — more than 8,300 or an increase of about 28 percent.

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The defense and space sector was the only group that shed jobs. Its headcount went down by about 3,000. The commercial airplanes category added just 800 to its ranks, and the services division grew by 2,000.

From the beginning of 2018 to the start of 2019, the commercial airplane category saw the most job growth. 

Boeing saw employment increase in South Carolina that year, by about 600 from the beginning of 2018 to January 2019. 

At that time, production of the Dreamliner was ramping up to 14 jets a month from 12, split between the local campus and a plant near Seattle that also builds the wide-body jet.

But in October, the company announced it would cut Dreamliner production to 12 jets a month. Boeing cited fallout from the U.S. trade war with China, which has halted China's orders of its wide-body jets, as the primary reason.

Then, last week, Boeing said it would scale back Dreamliner production further to 10 a month starting early next year.

It’s unclear how the production cuts will affect employment at the North Charleston 787 plant this year, when the reduction from 14 jets to 12 takes effect, or in the several years after when production is scaled back to 10. The company isn't expected to release its next official state-by-state employment figures until earlier 2021.

The company's decision to halt production of its 737 Max, which has been grounded since last March following two deadly crashes, did affect some North Charleston-based employees who had been building jet engine parts for that plane.

Those workers were moved across town to the 787 Dreamliner campus last month. Employees at the plant in Washington state where the Max is assembled also have been temporarily reassigned. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.

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