More funding for aeronautical training center needed

By Ashley Barker
Published March 20, 2014

Securing funds for a $79 million aeronautical training center at Trident Technical College is still in its early stages, but so far it’s proving difficult.

The S.C. House budget included a $5 million appropriation for the project in its capital reserve fund for fiscal 2013-2014. Trident Tech President Mary Thornley, however, is looking for the Legislature to pay $17 million for each of the next three years.

“We are very grateful for that $5 million designation,” Thornley said during a Trident Technical College Enterprise Campus Authority meeting on Tuesday. “$5 million won’t build the facility, so we’ll work very carefully with the Senate to continue to explain the need and the timeliness — the need for sooner rather than later — to build this facility.”

The budget was sent to the Senate on March 12 and referred to the Committee on Finance. Thornley is not willing to settle for less than her goal.

“I have been here 23 years. I only have a going-forward scenario,” she said. “We’ll do our very best during the process to convey how important it is to move forward now.”

The proposed center at Trident Tech’s campus in North Charleston is expected to provide training in aircraft assembly, aircraft maintenance and avionics for the college’s academic programs. Training for employees at the Boeing Co. and area vendors through the ReadySC program, which is housed at Trident Tech, is also anticipated to take place in the center.

Charleston County has agreed to pay for $18.75 million of the facility as long as the state provides $51.25 million, or 64.9% of the total cost. The city of North Charleston is expected to add $1 million, and Trident Tech will need to contribute $4 million in cash and $4 million in land value.

Approximately 25 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to the campus, valued at $4.125 million or $165,000 per acre, will be used for the center if funding is secured.

In January, Thornley told the authority that if Trident Tech needs to borrow $4 million for its cash share of the project, it should. She cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that said South Carolina’s aerospace industry was the fastest growing industry in the nation from 2007 to 2012.

“Over 200 aerospace-related manufacturing companies and suppliers operate in South Carolina, and they employ 23,000 people. Out of 46 counties, we have aerospace activity in over 30 of them,” Thornley said. “This is bigger than Trident Tech and bigger than Charleston.”

In 2013, Boeing announced a second development phase at the company’s 787 manufacturing and assembly operation in North Charleston. Economic development and Boeing officials said the expansion will bring 2,000 more workers and $1.1 billion in investment to South Carolina during the next eight years.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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