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Columbia Business Monthly

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Sep 05, 2018 12:56PM ● By Emily Stevenson
By Adrianne Beasley
Director, Aerospace Initiatives for S.C. Council on Competitiveness

It should come as no surprise that the aerospace industry in South Carolina is robust. Boeing’s 2009 decision to locate in Charleston brought statewide attention to the sector and palmetto pride vibrated across the state with the delivery of the first South Carolina-built 787-10 this past March.

But the fact is that aerospace has been in South Carolina long before Boeing rolled out its first delivery from the North Charleston facility in 2012 and the industry’s impact can be felt across the state.

Aerospace in South Carolina represents $19 billion in economic impact and employs more than 100,000 workers among 400-plus commercial businesses and four military bases across the state.

And it is growing—both in employment and revenue. 

The state’s private sector aerospace revenue growth easily outpaces neighboring states North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Meanwhile, employee growth rates in the Palmetto State are eight times the national average.

What past years’ numbers don’t show us is the massive potential for new growth that is just on the horizon for aerospace in South Carolina.

In the last decade, major location and production announcements from Boeing, Toray, GKN, and others have brought many Tier 2-5 suppliers to the state. These businesses are attracted to South Carolina by the presence of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 suppliers, as well as the robust infrastructure, low-operating costs, and skilled labor market in the Palmetto State. This has built a strong direct and indirect supply chain that any OEM, Tier 1 supplier, or major program of record seeks when making decisions on site location.

It’s one of the reasons that Lockheed Martin chose their Greenville facility to build the T-50A Trainer. This fall, the Air Force will announce the winner of the $16 billion TX Trainer contract.

If Lockheed Martin wins, the Greenville site will produce four aircraft per month, creating 200-250 new jobs. That’s in addition to Lockheed Martin’s $1.12 billion F-16 contract to build 70 aircraft for the Royal Bahraini Air Force that was awarded in June; those aircrafts will be built in Greenville.

The strong infrastructure and pro-business environment of our state was a major deciding factor for ACL Airshop, one of the most recent aerospace expansions; they broke ground August 15 in Greenville.

ACL Airshop is a subsidiary of Ranger Aerospace and has become a leading worldwide provider of fleet control, leasing, sales, and repair services for unit load devices. The new facility will include 60,000 square feet featuring high-bay manufacturing spaces for air cargo nets, transportation straps, and other products. In the announcement press release, ACL CEO Steve Townes said, “Aviation’s fastest-growing region in the world is the southeastern United States, and ACL Airshop is at the center of its multi-state crossroads in the Upstate of South Carolina. We are growing. We are hiring.”

These are just a few of the most recent aerospace announcements for South Carolina. The future will undoubtedly include exciting new things for the state. I, along with many industry leaders, continue to follow the latest in commercial space exploration, unmanned aerial systems, and of course, Boeing’s plans for their New Mid-Market Aircraft. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Townes’s perspective: the aerospace industry in South Carolina is growing—and hiring.

This growth, along with the topics of workforce needs, research, and advancements within the industry, will all come together October 9-10 at the 5th Annual S.C. Aerospace Conference and Expo in Columbia. The conference is a partnership of the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, S.C. Aerospace, the University of South Carolina, S.C. Department of Commerce, S.C. Aeronautics Commission, and S.C. Aviation Association. Keynote speakers from across the industry are scheduled, including those from NASA, Boeing, PwC, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and more.

In addition to keynote presentations and panel discussions, the state Department of Commerce will host a business-to-business matchmaking forum on October 9, where suppliers will meet with OEM and Tier 1 buyers from across the Southeast.

Also, USC will lead the ACE Technical Symposium, featuring industry-focused research sessions that include renowned researchers from USC, Clemson, North Carolina State, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Virginia Tech, the University of Texas, and Florida State University, as well as industry researchers from GE Aviation, KUKA Robotics, UTC, Toray, Siemens, Skyworks Global, Spirit AeroSystems, Ingersoll Machine Tools, ATI, Hexcel, and more.

Combined with a large expo hall full of aerospace exhibitors and plenty of networking opportunities, this conference has become a staple for most of our state’s aerospace related companies. To learn more about the conference agenda and to register, visit
S.C. Aerospace, a cluster initiative of the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, is a collaborative effort to advance and market South Carolina’s aerospace industry cluster on the global stage. It is a partnership of the public, private, academic, and nonprofit sectors connecting the industry’s assets and securing future growth.