BY BRYAN S. DERREBERRY
There is a decision being made Feb. 15 by a few thousand people that can change the course of history in our region. On that day, Boeing’s eligible assembly workers will vote to either reject being part of the IAM or will vote to join the union. That vote will impact our entire economy for decades to come.
In October 2010, Boeing made a historic decision in their company — they announced a decision to locate a 787 assembly operation in North Charleston. That decision, made in the middle of one of the worst economic recessions in our country’s history, was heard around the world. First, no one thought Boeing would ever build commercial planes outside Everett, Washington.
Second, no one thought they would take a risk and select a place whose workforce had never before made airplanes.
The evidence shows Boeing made a great decision in South Carolina. That decision has resulted in incredible economic impact on our region’s economy.
In 2010, I made the decision to accept the job as president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. I left a similar position at the Wichita Chamber of Commerce — at one time the nation’s largest aerospace cluster. Boeing, at the height of their involvement, employed more than 40,000 people in Wichita. I got to know them there as a great corporate and community member.
Boeing’s facility in Wichita was unionized. The union told employees prior to the vote many of the same things they are saying here in Charleston — that they could guarantee higher wages, more team input into the work environment and that employees would be much better off economically as a result of joining the union.
The work that was performed in Wichita moved to San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Seattle area. Thousands of Boeing employees in Wichita lost their jobs in Wichita. Future generations promised jobs by the union would never materialize.
Each year, the Chamber and our partner, the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, publish an annual Regional Economic Scorecard that measures the progress of our economy compared to those metros we compete with across the country. The latest report shows the fastest growing jobs in our community are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs that are also the highest paying jobs in our community. Boeing’s 7,000 plus teammates are all in STEM jobs. The multiplier of STEM jobs is higher than any other jobs — meaning the more STEM jobs, the more of every job in our community.
Our goal at the chamber is to create jobs in our community that benefit everyone. We are actively engaged in growing jobs that pay above average because we know that increased wages in our community increase the standard of living for everyone.
Boeing has been the catalyst for that in our community, accounting for more than $11 billion annually and more than 7,000 jobs. And they are an incredible corporate citizen. Since they opened in 2010, they have invested more than $32 million in our community, our state, our schools, our churches and our nonprofits. Their employees have participated in more than 500 community projects such as Trident United Way Day of Caring, restoring oyster beds, reading and mentoring students in our schools and everything in between.
They are helping people in every walk of life in our state.
On Feb. 15, Boeing employees will have the chance to vote to make history. A “no” vote doesn’t guarantee continued growth in South Carolina, but the last seven years have shown that Boeing South Carolina is capable of incredible success. We don’t want to have what happened in Wichita happen here. Vote for Boeing and vote for our future.
Bryan S. Derreberry is president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.