South Carolina Ranked 17th on the Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings

Richard Breen

Friday, October 6th, 2017

South Carolina ranks 17th in an annual listing that focuses on aerospace manufacturing, and experts from around the Palmetto State believe it is “punching above its weight” when it comes to competing for business.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released its fourth annual aerospace manufacturing attractiveness rankings. The top five states were Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia.

“The biggest takeaway I have is the strength in general of the Southeast region,” said Adrianne Beasley, director of aerospace initiatives with the S.C. Council on Competitiveness. Outside the top five, other Southeast states in the top 20 included Florida (6th), Tennessee (11th) and Alabama (13th). “It’s a great thing to be right in the middle of that.”

Claire Gibbons, director of global marketing and communications with the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, pointed out that South Carolina is smaller (24th in population) than the top states.

“I think we’re punching above our weight class in terms of population,” she said.

The aviation sector in general, and aerospace manufacturing in particular, have received increased economic development interest in recent years with the arrival of The Boeing Co.’s assembly facility in North Charleston.

“What it told companies is that South Carolina must be a good place to do business,” said Jody Bryson, president and chief executive of the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center in Greenville. “And whether Boeing’s in Charleston or Greenville, it’s improving the quality of life and creating opportunities all across the state.”

Boeing is a selling point for Charleston economic developers.

“By and large, the majority of aerospace prospects in our pipeline are looking at proximity to a major customer,” said Becky Ford, director of global business development with CRDA. Ford also touts Charleston’s proximity to other industry players such as Airbus Group (Alabama), Embraer SA (Florida), Gulfstream (Georgia), Lockheed Martin Corp. (Greenville) and Spirit Airlines Inc. (Florida).

PwC’s state rankings included the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and used 34 different measures, covering subjects such as infrastructure, labor and tax policy. South Carolina’s 17th place finish was bolstered by high marks for tax policy and cost of doing business. Its lowest marks came in labor (which included education measures) and infrastructure.

Ford and Gibbons said that when it comes to labor, Charleston’s education attainment levels are higher than the statewide average.

“The workforce is not only capable, we have a lot of folks who have manufacturing experience,” Ford said.

“We also have a fair number of military who are separating annually,” Gibbons added. She said many veterans become candidates for manufacturing, information technology or research and development jobs in aerospace.

According to a 2015 report from the Council on Competitiveness and the University of South Carolina, aerospace supports more than 102,000 jobs and is responsible for a $17 billion economic impact statewide. The S.C. Department of Commerce reports that 5,400 new aerospace jobs have been announced since 2011.

This year, Allegheny Technologies Inc. and GE Aviation selected a Chester County site for a research and development facility that is expected to create 29 jobs. Also, Electro-Spec Inc., a specialty plating manufacturer with aerospace clients, selected a Lexington County site for a new, $3.1 million production facility projected to create 53 jobs.

Lockheed Martin, which has long operated a maintenance and repair facility at Bryson’s SC-TAC, announced this year it would build F-16 fighter jets at the site.

PwC said it continues to tweak the methodology for its rankings, and it shows in broad, year-to-year fluctuations for some states. For example, from 2015-17 North Carolina went from 10th to 18 to fourth. South Carolina went from 14th to 24th to 17th over the same period.

In the 2015 report, PwC gave a mention to South Carolina’s collaboration with Boeing on a state-sponsored training program “that can keep supplying qualified, interested employees as the site grows.”

PwC also ranks nations for aerospace manufacturing attractiveness. The United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada formed this year’s top five.

“The United States consistently places first in the aerospace manufacturing rankings as a result of the aerospace industry’s significant scale, supported by a relatively strong economy, robust air transportation infrastructure, and active defense posture,” the report stated.

Beasley said the Council on Competitiveness plans to update its economic impact information for the aerospace industry in time for its 2018 conference, which will be moved to October to facilitate outreach to K-12 and higher education participants.