Forecast: A capital ’14 Boeing last year led S.C. in investments, future jobs

File/Brad Nettles/Staff Boeing led the list of top investments in South Carolina in 2013 with its announcement of another $1 billion and an additional 2,000 jobs by 2020 at its North Charleston campus where the 787 Dreamliner is assembled. Altogether, the state saw $3.35 billion in capital investments announced last year.

Led by several Charleston area firms, South Carolina hauled in $3.35 billion in capital investments from industry last year, an amount that eventually will translate into 12,832 new jobs for the Palmetto State.

And that trend should continue into 2014 as the economy improves, a Wells Fargo economist said.

Boeing’s North Charleston campus led the list of most new jobs promised and highest investment announced, according to Allison Skipper, spokeswoman for the state Commerce Department.

In April, the Chicago-based aerospace giant announced it would pump in $1 billion in new investment at its 787 Dreamliner plane-making operation at Charleston International Airport and create 2,000 more jobs by 2020. It currently employs 6,600 in North Charleston.

In December, Boeing closed on a deal for 468 more acres near the airport without saying specifically what it will be used for, but a wetlands mitigation plan for the property shows its flight line increasing from seven to 16 stalls for completed 787s and its main assembly building growing by about two-thirds.

Boeing will also begin assembling the 787-9, a bigger version of its passenger jet, this fall and will announce the production site of its 787-10, its biggest plane in the series by March. Aviation analysts predict North Charleston is the most likely candidate to build the new airplane.

“We don’t make a commitment of an additional $1 billion ... and 2,000 more people unless we’re committed to the region,” Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, said in December. He said the new land “gives us a lot of flexibility.”

In December, software-maker Benefitfocus trumpeted the creation of 1,200 more jobs at its Daniel Island campus, investing $60 million over the next few years and tripling its current work force.

Other major investments last year by local firms include $600 million by Google, which didn’t announce the number of jobs it created at its Berkeley County data center site, and $51 million and 84 jobs by Weber Automotive for new vehicle components in Palmetto Commerce Park in North Charleston.

Expansions of existing companies, such as those by the Charleston area companies, made up 53 percent of new jobs and 73 percent of new investment across the state from 2011 to 2013, Skipper said.

“South Carolina is at the forefront of a manufacturing renaissance,” Skipper said.

During that same period, the state’s total manufacturing sector, made up of existing and new companies, represented 65 percent of new jobs and 86 percent of new investment, she added.

Foreign investors such as Michelin, with its Upstate and Midlands plants, brought in 39 percent of the new jobs and 61 percent of the investment. Michelin North America announced a $200 million upgrade last year.

The top foreign jobs creators were Germany, Canada, Japan and India. The top foreign investors included Germany, Japan, France and China.

South Carolina has 1,200 foreign operations, employing more than 100,000 employees.

In all, the state saw 101 projects announced in 2013. While many of them were announced, not all of them materialized in 2013.

For example, Boeing and Benefitfocus plan to make the investments and add jobs over several years.

Skipper said South Carolina has the fastest-growing manufacturing gross domestic product on the East Coast and is outpacing the nation, including its neighbors in North Carolina and Georgia.

The state saw record exports for 2012, the latest year with available statistics, of $25.3 billion and is the No. 1 exporter of automobiles and tires, Skipper said.

As for this year, Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, is bullish on the state’s industrial recruitment efforts.

Vitner said he does not see any reason for South Carolina not to continue its trend in 2014 of averaging about $3.3 billion a year in capital investments in recent years.

“The U.S. economy is going to be stronger and more businesses are going to be expanding,” he said. “We are more optimistic about 2014 than any year since the recession. We could see any number of projects announced this year. In some ways, we have a real recovery going on right now.”

Growth has been about 2 percent the past few years, but he said the pace could pick up to 3 percent in 2014.

He called South Carolina an anomaly with all of its industry announcements.

“South Carolina has been a bit of an exception the last couple of years because capital investment has been lacking for much of the country,” Vitner said.

He said the state’s success stems from its ideal location to establish an export plant.

“If you want to put in an exporting operation, South Carolina is fairly low in operating costs,” he said.

He cited rail, interstates and the Port of Charleston as key factors to the state’s industry recruitment efforts.

With several announcements made at the end of 2013 across the state, including Benefitfocus, Vitner said the state is gaining momentum that should carry throughout the rest of the year.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or