Boeing ramps up charitable giving: 787 manufacturer seeks to expand goodwill in S.C.

Rick Stephens, a Boeing senior vice president, (right) announced the company’s commitment in June to be “local presenting sponsor” for the financially strapped Heritage golf tournament. With him was Jim Little of Royal Bank of Canada, title sponsor for the annual spring tourism draw on Hilton Head Island.

6/16/11 Jay Karr, The (Hilton He

Jack Jones was a popular man Wednesday evening in the parking lot of the Bi-Lo off Shelmore Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.

The vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, who moved to the Charleston area in April, shook hand after eager hand, and when it came time for him to speak, the spirited hand clapping was accented with a whistle. Boeing, and all that comes with it, is clearly welcome in the Lowcountry.

Wearing a dark company polo and pleated dress pants, Jones had come to announce the aviation giant's title sponsorship of next spring's Cooper River Bridge Run.

A back-of-the-T-shirt sponsor of this year's popular 10K race, the newest, biggest corporate citizen in town decided to kick out significantly more money to join the Mauldin-based grocery chain on the front of the shirt.

'You're going to find something about Boeing,' Jones promised the assembled crowd. 'It's not about the money we give, which we do give money. You're going to find out that people at Boeing participate more and are more involved than anything that money can ever buy.'

Indeed, Boeing plans to send 1,000 runners next March, up from the 600 who ran in April, longtime race director Julian Smith said shortly after Jones' remarks. He said Boeing is 'awesome to deal with' but was more tight-lipped when it came to the company's cash contribution.

'To get on the back of the T-shirt is $25,000,' he said. 'To get on the front's a whole different story.'

Ramping up

When any new company comes to town, people have a hope and expectation it will 'give back' by sponsoring local organizations, volunteering or offering its expertise.

But the Boeing case is somewhat extraordinary. The company, the largest American exporter by value, made $3.3 billion last year and has 5,000 workers at its North Charleston site. And it received a massive incentives package to come to South Carolina, a state that consistently trails most others in indices of wealth, health and education.

Welcome, yes, but with expectations to 'give back,' to be sure.

Curt Weeden, president of Business and Nonprofit Strategies in Mount Pleasant, has followed Boeing for years. He thinks it will maintain the same goodwill it built in its other principal centers of operation.

'They're a responsible corporation. They've proven it in Washington, Chicago and Texas,' he said.

Boeing has only been in South Carolina a few years, depending on how you count its ownership interest in suppliers it eventually acquired entirely, but it's already making its mark on the community.

As it ramps up production of the 787 Dreamliner at its campus next to the Charleston International Airport, it seems the company is also ramping up its giving, especially to area civic events and various health and education initiatives.

Last year, for example, Boeing gave $25,000 to the Trident Technical College Foundation as one of several sponsors of the organization's 'A Night in the Valley' wine dinner and auction. This year, Boeing's doubled its giving to become the sole presenting sponsor, said Meg Howle, vice president for advancement at the college.

Of the $50,000, $10,000 is earmarked for general scholarships, Howle said. Boeing has donated a separate $5,000 just for aeronautical scholarships.

'We have over 16,000 students, so our scholarship needs are huge,' Howle said. 'So they're not just supporting one specific area, aeronautical studies programs, by their sponsorship; they support multiple and varied programs.'

The rest of the sponsorship money goes to technology and equipment and professor 'minigrants' for special projects.

As with much of Boeing's other community investments, the Trident Tech partnership is not just about money, nor is it strictly charity.

Trident Tech offers four airplane-related degrees or certificate tracks: aircraft maintenance technology, aircraft assembly technology, avionics maintenance technology and basic industrial work skills.

Any one of those could prepare a student for a job at Boeing or one of its local contractors. Trident Tech has a continuing education program that, among other things, recertifies existing Boeing employees.

ReadySC, the state's workforce training agency, is responsible for the applications and initial training of Boeing's prospective assemblers and fabricators. That training, which is based at Trident Tech's Rivers Avenue campus, was part of the incentives package that lured the company to South Carolina.

So while Howle is careful to point out that ReadySC is separate from the college, which itself is separate from the foundation, it's clear that the various state actors and Boeing are closely intertwined.

Howle spoke of 'a strong ongoing relationship with Boeing.'

'We feel like we're partners in training and bettering the opportunities for ... job placement in the region.'

Contributor

In 2010, Boeing made $2.3 million in 'charitable contributions' in South Carolina, according to company data. That figure includes company and company trust contributions, according to Boeing Charleston spokeswoman Candy Eslinger.

Nationally, including employee contributions, Boeing gave $141 million last year, according to the company report.

Eslinger said the company pays for sponsorships, whereas the Boeing Company Charitable Trust is more pure philanthropy.

According to the Foundation Center, the Boeing Company Charitable Trust gave out more than $30 million in 2009, good enough for 24th place among corporate foundations in the United States.

States where Boeing has the most employees received the most money. Washington, for instance, where Boeing has about half of its 150,000-member workforce, got $42.7 million.

'Boeing contributes more than $15 million annually to the Northwest communities they're in,' said Christina Donegan, communications vice president of Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. 'They are a great community partner that's heavily involved in cultural organizations and human services.'

But the correlation is not consistent. For instance, Iowa and Louisiana got far more money than their tiny em-ployee counts would seem to predict, whereas Arizona has more Boeing employees than South Carolina but got less money.

Priorities

Companywide, Boeing focuses its giving in five areas: education; health and human services; arts and culture; civic; and environment. The current priorities are early education, teacher training and health.

In May, the Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital announced Boeing had donated $1 million to expand its existing programs into The Boeing Center for Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles in Children and Families. The money, split between the hospital's Lean Team and Heart Health programs and spread over two years, is designed to help combat childhood obesity.

Hospital spokeswoman Heather Woolwine called the gift a 'great shot in the arm.'

Dr. Philip Saul, director of pediatric cardiology at the Children's Hospital added, 'It's as much bang for their buck as they can get in terms of health.'

Off the ground

And so far, Boeing's local charity operation has been running at something short of full steam.

The North Charleston site only got a local grant administrator, Christine Ray, whose title is global corporate citizenship community investor, in January.

And the local chapter of Boeing's formidable Employees Community Fund is in the set-up stages. Company spokeswoman Eslinger expects that function to be up and running by the end of this month or next.

'It has an employee board, and employees can choose to have a portion of their salaries put into this fund to help South Carolina nonprofit organizations,' Eslinger said, adding that given the size of the North Charleston workforce, the local fund will be potent.

The company also contributes to employee causes such as walks, runs or bike rides and matches an employee's gifts and volunteer hours with cash if it's available.

Boeing employees also volunteer in an official capacity.

On Friday, Boeing will send a cadre to Collins Park to volunteer with Keep North Charleston Beautiful as part of the Trident United Way's Day of Caring.

Boeing also has worked with Charleston on Earth Day this year and in 2010. Employees have worked with Habitat for Humanity and donated school supplies for the annual First Day Festival.

Eslinger would not say how much Boeing gave to individual recipients last year or how much it planned to give out in 2011.

'There is a specific budget for Charleston,' she said, 'but of course it changes from year to year ... and just like our operating budgets, it's nothing that we publicly disclose.'

Boeing has spread its money around already, and it seems its employees have been active with other programs.

'But again, keep in mind that we're getting our program here in South Carolina off the ground,' Eslinger said.

Largesse list

Here is a sampling of Boeing Co.'s donations and other community financial commitments since coming to South Carolina:

2009: Trident United Way, $25,000.

January 2010: R.B. Stall High School for its Aeronautical Studies Academy, $50,000.

April 2011: Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation, $129,000.

May 2011: Charleston County School District, $371,000 for math and science teacher training.

May 2011: MUSC Children's Hospital, $1 million.

June 2011: PGA's Heritage of Golf Tournament on Hilton Head Island, $1 million a year until 2016.

Summer 2011: Trident Technical College Foundation, $50,000. Also Southeast Wildlife Exposition, $50,000.

Aug. 31, 2011: Cooper River Bridge Run, presenting/title sponsor for March 2012. Amount not disclosed.