So Boeing-North Charleston will roll out its first 787 Dreamliner today.
Still hard to believe, huh? Boeing’s massive production campus evolved from a standing start in 2009 to completion six months early, with nary a construction accident. We could stop right there and declare that’s quite an achievement for South Carolina, or any other state for that matter.
In fact, it’s probably unprecedented.
The Boeing assembly facility covers the equivalent of 10 football fields. It’s a world class state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, laced with large and small environmental features, like a roof covered with solar energy panels. Hundreds of permits were required, scores of government and intergovernmental deals were necessary. The bureaucracy seemed to flow flawlessly. It didn’t, of course, but in quiet flushes of fresh governmental air, the inter-agency problems were worked out, expeditiously, constructively and with pointed touches of civility.
Doesn’t sound like “us,” does it?
After all, we’re now in our 40th year figuring out I-526’s final routing. And in our third year of the “jobs vs. snobs” debate about a new cruise ship passenger terminal. We started planning a new container port facility nearly 15 years ago. The list of how we tie ourselves in public project planning knots is long and simply proves that in Greater Charleston, we plan too little and fuss too much.
And for the Boeing miracle to materialize with such reassuring dispatch, it was necessary for the state and the City of North Charleston to rise to a soaring orbit of intergovernmental cooperation.
That would be the same state and city that continue to war on port and rail development at the old Naval Base. Boeing’s big rollout today begins three hours after the next federal court hearing on this edgy litigation.
But for Boeing in North Charleston, every governing body and everybody had the great prize in sight: As the 2009 “great recession” was peaking, our state would take a giant leap into the aerospace industry; 9,000 well-paid and well-trained employees building planes for a special U.S. company.
There are folks in Boeing’s Seattle-Everett enclave who will forever doubt that South Carolina can build a plant or a plane. In their view, any North Charleston-produced plane is an insulting assault on the putative legacy they claim for themselves — that real Boeing planes must be assembled in Washington state, where in 1912 Bill Boeing turned old Heath’s shipyard on Seattle’s Duwamish River into his first airplane factory.
Their unions and their political leadership, including President Obama, sicced the National Labor Relations Board on South Carolina and our right-to-work laws. And they insulted us, like the corny cartoons and jokes depicting South Carolinians as incapable of producing anything but a backward reputation. In this view, South Carolinians building airplanes — well, that could never happen; we South Carolinians are too busy sleeping with our coon dogs and training them to change light bulbs.
But as soon as reality sets in on both coasts, we should forgive these folks — for insulting our state’s great coon-dog population. And then cheer for the thousands of South Carolinians who will produce three Dreamliners a month. If generations of workers in the beautiful Pacific Northwest can assemble airplanes, we can, too! South Carolinians train well, appreciate good jobs and care about the companies that invest in our state.
With the rollout, this project moves past the political achievement cycle and on to the most important objective — building airplanes and making a profit. That should put Boeing South Carolina and Boeing Washington state on the same corporate pages. It may take time for Everett, Wash., and North Charleston to become “friends,” but both entities are now part of the Boeing family. Boeing’s Everett facility opened in 1967 to produce the historic 747 jumbo jet. We should make no mistake here — Boeing Everett is the respected senior family member on this corporate tree — and probably could help Greater Charleston understand Boeing community dynamics.
And let’s appreciate, too, that Everett — and all other Boeing assembly plants — have been making airplanes well for a long time.
Hundreds of elected officials have claimed at least partial parentage of the great Boeing deal. A dozen or so should get the credit. The summary point — Boeing’s massive investment — is a validation of South Carolina’s trainable workforce, and our state’s business-friendly marketing enterprise. Sixth District Rep. James Clyburn said it best: “To have our nation’s No. 1 exporter in this state … this is the game changer of my lifetime!”
He’s right, and the huge bonus of the Boeing project is that it demonstrated the best of Greater Charleston’s regionalism and interagency cooperation. It works, so let’s do it again ... and again.
And here’s hoping that seeing a brand new Boeing plane flying gracefully over the Lowcountry will never become routine for any of us. Boeing is — and always will be — a big deal.
Ron Brinson, a North Charleston city councilman, served as president/CEO of the American Association of Ports Authorities from 1979-86 and president/CEO of the Port of New Orleans from 1986-2003. He is a former associate editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.