Business leaders discuss Lowcountry economy at Conference Series

By Matt Tomsic
mtomsic@scbiznews.com
Published Oct. 1, 2012

Business leaders from across state and country — including the CEO of the Boeing Co. — spoke about business in South Carolina today at the College of Charleston during the Conference Series organized by Rep. Tim Scott.

Scott said the half-day event gives business leaders the chance to talk about how they’ve succeeded and how the state and Lowcountry can build a better economy.

“This is a day that we learn more about succeeding in business,” Scott said. “I have been so excited about what we’ve done as a community to attract major business here.”

Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College, moderated the panels and asked questions that had been submitted by constituents. The questions focused on how South Carolina can attract more businesses and ensure the businesses already here are successful. Speakers included representatives from BMW Manufacturing Co., the S.C. State Ports Authority and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic.

During one of the panels, Bobby Hitt, secretary of the S.C. Commerce Department, said that the state is moving to a much higher level of manufacturing and that the state needs to be prepared to meet those manufacturing needs and sustain it.

“It is vitally important that we have the resources,” Hitt said. “What we need to do in education is vital.”

S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell said the state can develop more businesses in clusters that already have operations here, such as automotive and aerospace.

“We are a small state,” Harrell said. “We have limited resources. We have to make sure we focus in the areas where we can have the biggest impacts.”

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said the aerospace giant is one of the few companies that has hired during the past two years, and the company has added nearly 20,000 new workers. Many of those workers have been hired in North Charleston, where the company builds interiors for 787 Dreamliners and builds and delivers the planes. McNerney said the North Charleston facilities are performing better than had been planned.

“I think growth will come here as Boeing grows,” McNerney said. “This is the flagship of our wide-body airplane business. This is the growth prospect for the next 20 years.”

After his remarks, McNerney said Air India could receive the first Lowcountry-built 787 in the next few days or weeks. Boeing officials had said the delivery would happen last week, and McNerney said the delivery date has moved while Air India gets its final regulatory approvals.

McNerney said Boeing typically acquires extra real estate around its facilities for growth, and he thinks that the growth opportunities for the 787 are closer than other growth opportunities for the company’s other programs. Boeing has an option on a tract of land behind its Interiors Responsibility Center in North Charleston.

“We want to be flexible and be able to support the growth,” McNerney said. “We generally do it, but especially here.”

McNerney also touched on issues with the GEnx engine, describing those issues as growing pains. The National Transportation Safety Board, Boeing and GE Aviation are investigating failures with the GEnx, one of which happened during ground testing of a Lowcountry-built 787 in North Charleston.

“Growing pains are not unusual in new engines and new airplanes,” he said. “I would anticipate that it’s not going to slow down the program.”

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