In South Carolina, more than friendly competition
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — On Thursday, the eve of the historic roll-out of the first commercial jet built in South Carolina, a white display board on the shop floor inside a new Boeing facility here might worry the company’s Pacific Northwest production workers.
The poster’s center shows the facility’s current target: churning out interior fixtures for three 787 Dreamliners per month. But from there, arrows sweep upward to future goals, where large letters spell out “797” – denoting whatever all-new airplane Boeing builds next.
“This is about what do we want to be when we grow up,” said Lane Ballard, director of Boeing’s spanking-new 787 interiors fabrication facility here, just 11 miles from its main Dreamliner manufacturing and final assembly complex.
He wasn’t shy about the goal of helping South Carolina build Boeing’s next new jet, one that Boeing’s Washington state production workers also know they must compete for.
“We want to be positioned to be the most competitive and engaged workforce, ready to take on that opportunity,” said Ballard.
He added that he’s sure Everett must be similarly focused.
“The company will explore all options,” said Ballard. “Hopefully there’s plenty of room for everybody.”
That’s also the position of influential South Carolina state legislator Harry “Chip” Limehouse, who insists that Everett and North Charleston are now a team.
“We’re not competing with Everett. We’re working in concert,” he said. “The rear fuselage of every 787 assembled in Everett is built here. The mid-fuselage of every 787 assembled in Everett is built here. And on 787 final assembly, we can’t keep up with demand. We’ve all got to try to keep up together.”
Still, when it comes to the next airplane, the ambitions of the East Coast and West Coast sites seem bound to clash.
South Carolina marked a milestone Friday when it rolled out the first Boeing-designed commercial jet ever assembled outside Washington state.
It’s an occasion for the state to celebrate its success with Boeing, and to raise expectations that the company and the aerospace industry could grow much bigger here in the future.
A visit to the impressive interiors fabrication plant that Ballard runs makes clear there is plenty of room for that.
The interiors facility is on Palmetto Commerce Parkway, a wide four-lane road finished just a year ago. Along its six-mile length, there are multiple turnouts that lead only to wooded land primed for commercial development.
Beside the Boeing interiors facility a cluster of businesses has already developed. Next door, Daimler is assembling commercial vans. Across the street, Venture Aerobearings makes bearings for jet engines.
Adjacent to Venture, ground has been broken for a new 110,000-square-foot airplane structures plant for TIGHitco, a supplier to Boeing and other aerospace companies, that will bring 350 new jobs.
That’s the first of what North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey hopes will be a growing cluster of aerospace suppliers.
“There are active negotiations going on,” he said.
Summey too believes South Carolina will have prime shot at being Boeing’s choice of location for future jets.
“Boeing is going to make these decisions based on profitability. I think that drives corporate America,” said Summey. He said the company will weigh the timeline and cost of constructing and developing a new plant, along with the availability of a workforce.
He noted that the final assembly plant that is the focus of Friday’s ceremonial rollout was built on time and on budget, and that the state’s workforce training program — which gives up to 12 weeks of skills training to new Boeing hires — is working well.