Haley says trip worthwhile

Gov. Nikki Haley

After facing criticism for the high costs associated with last year’s trip to the International Paris Air Show, the Haley administration took stock before traveling to this week’s aerospace expo in England.

“We went through and looked at how (the S.C. Department of) Commerce did the air show last year and looked at what we could do better,” Haley said Tuesday, speaking to reporters from her state’s booth at the Farnborough Airshow outside of London.

She said the state delegation will end up spending less money this year, with the private sector picking up more of the tab. Haley wouldn’t specify Tuesday, but Commerce has said the tab will exceed $100,000 but fall short of the $158,000 spent last year, when the state’s public-private regional development alliances collectively kicked in another $64,000.

Haley also said this year’s delegation is smaller. That’s true of her office, but according to Commerce, this year’s delegation is 30 people compared to last year’s 27. The group includes regional economic development officials from around the state.

In Paris last year, the delegation paid $25,000 to host prospective employers at a historic townhouse. This go-round, Haley hosted a reception Sunday at Trinity House, a posh venue blocks from the Tower of London.

Asked about the event Tuesday, Haley only said it was on a smaller scale than last year, with 50 people representing 20 companies attending. Commerce spokeswoman Amy Love said last week that 100 were expected. On Tuesday, she said 80 attended, including South Carolina’s delegation.

After last year’s show, Haley said the state had “closed two deals” while in Europe, though Commerce later said those had not been finalized. One of the deals, a new plant GKN Aerospace is proposing to build in Orangeburg County, has been announced and the other has not, the department said.

On Tuesday, Haley said the delegation had not closed any deals at Farnborough, explaining that many of the meetings with Boeing suppliers and other aerospace companies were first contacts.

It’s too early to judge the success of the marketing mission, but Haley is sanguine about the sales pitch so far.

“South Carolina continues to be the buzz because of Boeing and that’s a good thing,” she said.

In addition to touting the Boeing 787 plant in North Charleston, Haley said she has been courting companies by emphasizing South Carolina’s low cost of doing business, its workforce training programs and military assets and her union antipathy.

“You don’t have to conform to our workforce, our workforce conforms to you,” Haley said.

Haley justified the cost of the trip, whatever it ends up being, by saying it provides the rare opportunity to meet with many companies in one place.

“It’s a great opportunity for CEOs to talk to CEOs,” she said. “We are talking about the fact that South Carolina is the new ‘it’ state.”

She also noted the competition from neighboring states is fierce. She said there are twice as many U.S. governors at Farnborough than traveled to Paris last June.

“Nine of the governors chose to show up, and we’re all fighting for the same thing,” Haley said.

Haley said she planned to meet with GKN Aerospace Tuesday night and then leave for home early this morning.

The governor described her brief trip as “the starting point” from which to build South Carolina’s budding aerospace industry, which she said already includes 180 companies employing 20,000 people.

“We expect a lot of follow-up meetings,” she said.