Dude, does Boeing have a hot sister? 

Municipalities anxious to get aerocluster business

If Boeing is the ridiculously hot woman dating your buddy, North Chuck, then the rest of the municipalities in the region are the pining best friends, desperate to know if she has a sister or good-looking BFF.

Snagging Boeing's second Dreamliner plant last fall was a win for the entire region, bringing an estimated 2,500 construction jobs and 3,800 factory jobs. The plane manufacturer has committed to investing $750 million in the local economy, and the state Commerce Department estimates that, over its first 15 years of operation, the plant's economic impact could be as high as $3.8 billion.

"There's no question [Boeing's decision] is the most important economic development announcement in our history," Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says. "Obviously, it's wonderful for North Charleston, where the plant will actually be located, but no matter where you are in the region ... this is an opportunity to employ more of your residents."

But Boeing and North Charleston aren't exclusive. The company announced in December that it would be replicating every facet of the Dreamliner manufacturing process, either in the Lowcountry or in similarly union-averse communities in the region. It was great news that meant other municipalities could look for more than just North Charleston jobs — they could be looking at a little economic development news of their own.

And that has sent communities clamoring. Earlier this month, Charleston County Council poured $300,000 into its Economic Development Department, relocating the office and hiring two new staff members.

In the state of the town address, Mt. Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails told residents that the city was courting suppliers.

"We've had some very encouraging meetings with representatives from Boeing," he said.

Riley calls the potential impact of Boeing's arrival nothing short of extraordinary.

"It's a tremendous opportunity. And I think we all need to do whatever we can to avail ourselves of it to the fullest," he says.

In his State of the City address, Riley announced last month that he'd formed a task force charged with doing everything it can to support Boeing and the other businesses and services expected to come along with it.

Riley says the mandate for the task force is flexible, allowing it to change over time as the new plant is built and the needs of the community change.

"Early on, for instance, we expect to have people looking for homes in the area, and to have suppliers looking at warehouse and office space," he says. "The bottom line is, as a city, we want to assist them all in any way we possibly can."

Much like a good waiter, Riley wants the city ready to be of service before Boeing even realizes it needs the help.

"What I've told the members of our task force, which consists primarily of city employees, is to be alert, quite responsive, and proactive," Riley says, "in a sense, to consistently stay in a heightened sense of readiness."

Ryan Johnson, a spokesman for Mayor Keith Summey says a similar effort is underway in North Charleston. The city staff has meetings with Boeing on a weekly basis.

"We are aware of Boeing's immediate and future needs, including their suppliers," he says. "We're exerting our maximum effort to ensure North Charleston reaps the benefits of Boeing locating within our city."

Hook Me Up

Riley notes the area's aerocluster ambitions didn't just start with Boeing's big news.

"I think while it might sound like a cliché, there are a lot of people here who are dedicated and have been dedicated to making this region a great place to live," Riley says.

And, in the world of million-dollar tax breaks and state aid, quality of life often gets overlooked.

"That's not something that just happens, and it's vitally important because a great place to live is a great place to work," Riley says.

A quality work environment is going to help draw Boeing suppliers, but it also raises the region's credibility, says Gregg Robinson, executive director of the Orangeburg County Development Commission.

Not only has he been instrumental in making rural Orangeburg a hub of foreign investment in the state, but he's the local point man for the Jafza International site, Dubai's multi-million dollar commercial park on 1,300 acres in the county.

"The thing about Boeing and its vote of confidence in the Lowcountry is that it is a validation of the efforts of a lot of people over a lot of years," Robinson says. "You have a company that's a household name saying South Carolina is the place, and that's going to pay benefits for all of us for years to come."

Boeing would have been a blockbuster in any economic environment, Robinson says, but given the slowdown and the evaporation of credit, other projects have simply moved more slowly than originally anticipated.

"With Boeing, on the other hand, you've got a single, huge, manufacturing entity, and that's going to stick in people's minds as a vibrant image, as BMW has all these years after their arrival in the Upstate," Robinson says.

According to a 2008 USC study, BMW has brought 4.3 additional jobs to the state for every one created at the factory.

And that's a lot of sisters.

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