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Aerospace employment growth takes off

Author: Liz Segrist

Source: Charleston Regional Business Journal

August 20, 2014

South Carolina’s aerospace industry employs 53,000 workers and has a $17.4 billion economic impact on the state, according to a study released today from the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.

The growing sector creates more high-tech, high-wage jobs for residents, USC research economist Joseph Von Nessen said on a conference call Friday.

The presence of military bases, huge expansions at Boeing South Carolina and an extensive supplier network have resulted in significant growth for the aerospace sector over the past decade, particularly in the past four years, according to Von Nessen’s study, titled “Uncovering the Stealth Cluster: The Economic Impact of Civilian and Military Aerospace on South Carolina.”

The study considered three main sects of the aviation and aerospace industry: aerospace firms that directly serve the sector, referred to as the “aerospace core”; the state’s four military aviation facilities; and smaller private companies that support the sector, such as engineering firms.

The aerospace industry is one of the fastest-growing for employment and company growth in the state, especially in the aerospace core.

South Carolina’s aerospace core has had an annual employment growth rate of 11.4% on average since 2010; that is about eight times higher than the employment growth rate for the state over the same period.

The aerospace core’s average annual company growth rate since 2010 is 19.2%, with the majority of growth coming from small firms with five or fewer employees.

Boeing served as a catalyst for much of the recent growth. The highest regional concentration of aerospace firms and employment is in Charleston, followed by the Lowcountry as a whole, then the Midlands and the Upstate, the study found.

“The aerospace sector has really developed into a thriving cluster in South Carolina,” Von Nessen said. “Aerospace has been a key factor in the state’s recovery from the recession and a huge part of its economic growth. It will continue to be an economic powerhouse for South Carolina.”

The Boeing footprint is growing in North Charleston as workers increase 787 Dreamliner production rates from three to five in 2016 and as the plant prepares to be the sole producer of the 787-10 — the newest and longest member of the Dreamliner family — in 2017.

Boeing South Carolina currently employs 7,500 workers, according to Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger. The aerospace giant is building out its IT Center of Excellence, Engineering Design Center, Propulsion South Carolina and Boeing Research and Technology manufacturing center workforces. It is also expanding its Dreamliner campus in North Charleston.

This growth ripples out to suppliers, many of which were established before Boeing decided to put down roots in the Lowcountry in 2009. Aerospace suppliers like TIGHitco, Eaton Corp. and UEC Electronics, all in Charleston, supply parts and composites for larger original equipment manufacturers in the state and beyond.

Washington-based suppliers are also setting up operations in the Lowcountry to support Boeing operations, including Pacific Rim Aerospace, Kaman Engineering Services and Senior Aerospace AMT.

“Much like BMW accelerated the growth of the state’s automotive industry, South Carolina’s aerospace industry has grown exponentially since Boeing selected the Charleston region,” Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said in a statement. “And the ‘Boeing boost’ continues as we recruit major global suppliers — like carbon fiber manufacturer Toray Industries — that serve the aerospace cluster in South Carolina.”

The state needs to focus on the development of its workforce and preparation of sites with infrastructure or speculative buildings to continue recruiting effectively, according to Allison Skipper, spokeswoman for the S.C. Commerce Department.

Trident Technical College and Greenville Technical College’s aerospace training programs and the new masters and doctoral programs for aerospace at USC’s Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research are good examples of effective workforce development efforts; however, more is needed to supply companies with qualified workers, according to Ann Marie Stieritz, president and CEO of New Carolina: South Carolina’s Council on Competitiveness.

“We need an enhanced use of apprenticeship models for long-term solutions to fully develop opportunities for the sector ... as well as more options in college,” Stieritz said. “Clemson University has been very successful in training for the automotive sector; we can learn from that.”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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