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Columbia Business Monthly

A discussion with Adrianne Beasley, director of Aerospace Initiatives for the S.C. Council on Competitiveness

By Chris Haire

There’s a saying that what is past is prologue. And in the case of the aerospace industry in South Carolina, the story of the sector’s explosive past decade could be setting the stage for a prosperous future. 

From 2010 to 2017, nearly 12,000 aerospace jobs were created in the Palmetto State, and those jobs brought with them an average employee compensation of $78,526, approximately $20,000 more than other South Carolina manufacturing workers receive. 

And with Lockheed Martin set to build one round of brand-new F-16 fighter jets after another, ACL Airshop’s growing presence in the air cargo biz, and the arrival of carbon fiber manufacturers Toray Composite Materials in Spartanburg County and Teijin in Greenwood County, the aerospace sector is expected to continue to soar.

Recently, Columbia Business Monthly talked with Adrianne Beasely, the director of Aerospace Initiatives for the S.C. Council on Competitiveness. In our discussion, Beasely touched on a range of subjects, from the challenges of workforce development, research and development growth, logistics, and the potential for unionization. The following is a distillation of what was discussed; it has been edited for clarity and length.

On the Current Workforce
Aerospace is more about advanced manufacturing, mechatronics, wielding, the type of jobs and the type of skills that we do have a lot of talent here in the state. And we also have a lot of programs that are already existing. 

A lot of those companies can take advantage of the existing programs that we have in our technical colleges and universities.

When I look at the Upstate and I see growth at Lockheed Martin, for sure, they’re definitely going to need a lot of the skills they’ve got in the aircraft maintenance technician program at  Greenville Tech—that’s a big one. And Lockheed is right there in that program. They’re talking to them since day one about what they needed. 

On the Future Workforce
Look at a company like Toray that is coming in, and Teijin, on the carbon fiber development side. There’s going to be a lot of the workforce there, especially senior workforce.

I think we are going to see the skills all the way from the technician level all the way up to advanced materials and more of a chemistry science side of things. 

On R&D
When Boeing first came to the state in 2009, 2010, the assumption was they were just going to be doing final assembly. So the type of workforce they needed was very much technicians, mechanics, mechatronics. But you’ve seen now over the course of the last decade, they’ve pulled an enormous amount of their research and technology. Their R&D is now being done in Ladson, right there. 

The Upstate has been for some time now a really big hotbed for these carbon fiber materials firms. You’ve got Sigmatex in Orangeburg, you’ve Sitech, Solvay, and now Toray, Teijin.... When you see that much clustering, the research and development around it is going to come eventually. 

On USC and Clemson
When you are talking about the chemistry of composites, that’s a really high level of R&D. Luckily, we’ve got two schools. The University of South Carolina has got a really incredible advanced composite manufacturing program with the McNair Center and Clemson, at CU-ICAR, has advanced materials development. Those two groups work together frequently on research and development of composite manufacturing. 

On Recruiting Out of State Workers
Lockheed is in a position where they have traditionally, in the SCTAC (South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center) facility, had mostly contract workers, and I think we are going to see a concerted effort from them to either turn some of that workforce into full-time employment that stays in the state or start bringing in others. 

There is a lot of aerospace in Georgia and North Carolina we could be pulling from. 

On Logistics
We have seen incredible growth in logistics, in supply chain logistics. The council has a dedicated S.C. Logistics cluster that is managed in the same way we manage aerospace. They are waking every day thinking about logistics, especially the e-commerce boom that we are seeing led by Amazon—that e-commerce trade is slated to increase exponentially in the next decade. Air cargo is going to be a big part of that.

On Advancements in Air Cargo
The technology that is going into all shipping and trucking and cargo is really outstanding. That’s where ACL really shines is on their advanced technology that supports the sector, and that’s the really cool thing. Their Bluetooth technology is being used by Senator (International), BMW—it really is an agnostic technology that can support more than just aerospace. It can support the larger e-commerce community. 

On Airports
We have met with all of the airports within the state to help support how we can build up their air cargo capabilities. 

Charlotte has a huge hub for air cargo, but I think a lot of people don’t realize how much air cargo is coming and going out of Columbia, Greenville, and Charleston. Especially Greenville, with BMW right there—they're a really good example of an airport that has pivoted and allowed for growth in just having Senator co-locate there. 

On the Trouble with Spec Building
One of the hard things with planning ahead in aerospace markets—especially when you are talking about planning for something that is going to be a full and complete aircraft taking off and landing—it’s not a spec warehouse situation. You are talking about hangar size and concrete depth and a lot of other factors.  

It’s more about, how do we highlight the supply chain that we’ve got to support it, the workforce we have to support it, the incentive packages being lined up right with a company to locate here, and just proving that we have the infrastructure speed to be able to build for what is coming our way, and I think we have been doing that very well. 

On Unions
For the most part, the industry is going to stay a right-to-work state. We have not seen it at other large tier ones in aerospace within the state like GKN (Aerospace) and Lockheed Martin.

I think the industry as a whole is definitely very conscious of it and working together to try to keep their workforce happy so that they’re not open to it. But it’s not a day-to-day concern that I’m hearing—especially after the initial vote at Boeing a couple years ago when it was pretty clear the overall workforce wasn’t supportive of it. But it’s definitely something we have to keep a pulse on and keep knowledge of.