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Boeing, which is keeping SC plant open, saw stock soar with stimulus in sight

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Washington governor issues two-week stay-at-home order

A Boeing Co. Dreamlifter takes off from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. A big jump in the planemaker's stock pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average higher Wednesday. File/AP

Investor confidence in one of South Carolina's most critical employers got a big boost Wednesday as Congress debated billions in bailout aid for airlines and likely more for the company itself.

Boeing Co. shares rose 24 percent, helping to give the Dow Jones Industrial Average its first back-to-back gain since February. 

Less than a week ago, the outlook for the aerospace giant was very different. Its stock was trading below $100, down from a 52-week high of nearly $400. 

Wednesday's surge was largely fueled by news that the Senate had reached an agreement on a massive $2 trillion stimulus package to rescue the devastated U.S. economy from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The bill would call for $58 billion for U.S. airlines that have had to slash capacity and put off capital purchases as the health crisis upends travel.  Aid would be divided evenly between payroll grants for workers and loans to carriers. 

Another $17 billion has been set aside for a federal loan program targeting companies that are crucial to national security. Though that provision doesn't cite Boeing specifically, it was "crafted largely for the company’s benefit," the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing unidentified sources. 

Boeing said last week that it was supporting a minimum of a $60 billion bailout for the aerospace industry, separate from bailout requests from airlines.  That prompted former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to resign from her seat on Boeing's board.

Haley wrote in a letter to CEO David Calhoun and other board members that she "cannot support a move to lean on the federal government for a stimulus or bailout that prioritizes our company over others and relies on taxpayers to guarantee our financial position."

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Senate had not yet taken a vote on the stimulus measure. 

Meanwhile, production on the 787 Dreamliner jet that's made in South Carolina continued at Boeing's North Charleston plant, even as activity at factories in Washington state officially came to a halt Wednesday. 

The planemaker announced the two-week production pause on Monday, citing concerns about further spread of the coronavirus.

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At that time, at least 25 Boeing employees in the Puget Sound region had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and one worker at the Everett factory who tested positive for the virus had died.

Boeing reported Monday that one employee at its North Charleston campus tested positive for the virus. There were no additional known cases as of Wednesday among the roughly 7,000 South Carolinians the company employs. 

In an internal letter sent by Stan Deal, head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Deal said the company would "take further action if needed" at other sites.

"In the next few days we will also continue to monitor the situation at our production facilities in South Carolina, with the working environment and safety first and foremost," Deal wrote in the letter. 

For the time being, the North Charleston campus will be the only Boeing building commercial jets. Typically, production of the 787 is split between Everett and North Charleston. 

Boeing production in South Carolina can continue even if a shelter-in-place order were to take effect statewide. The company said it is considered an "essential" business and would be allowed to keep its site open, though some workers are telecommuting.  

Major vendors plan to continue sending the South Carolina plant parts while the Washington state factories temporarily go dark. 

Spirit AeroSystems, which is Boeing's largest supplier, said Tuesday it would suspend most Boeing-related production during the two-week period but pledged to keep working with the South Carolina plant.

"Spirit will continue to support 787 work for Boeing's Charleston, South Carolina, facility as needed," the company said in a statement. 

Likewise, Leonardo, an aerospace supplier that builds fuselage sections for Boeing in virus-stricken Italy, said it would continue to build and ship parts for the Dreamliner program.  The company estimated it builds about 14 percent of the 787 airframe. 

Italy has ordered all non-essential businesses across the country to close, but Leonardo has continued to operate since aerospace factories were exempt from those restrictions. 

Reach Emily Williams at 843-607-0894. 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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