Boeing new assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner will bring thousands of jobs and a huge new aeronautic profile to the Lowcountry by 2012, according to the company’s vice president of Charleston operations.
Tim Coyle, Boeing’s local executive in charge of the 787 project, says the company will break ground on a new 576,000-square-foot facility next month, with construction slated to begin in mid-2011. The first 787 will fly out of Charleston International Airport in early 2012, he said, with planes following at a rate of three a month.
“We’re excited about the choice of North Charleston,” he said immediately after a management meeting at Boeing’s existing facility at the airport.
In a statement, the company said it “evaluated criteria that were designed to find the final assembly location within the company that would best support the 787 business plan as the program increases production rates. In addition to serving as a location for final assembly of 787 Dreamliners, the facility also will have the capability to support the testing and delivery of the airplanes.”
“Establishing a second 787 assembly line in Charleston will expand our production capability to meet the market demand for the airplane,” said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in the statement.
Currently about 2,600 workers work for Boeing in North Charleston, including 100 that support the U.S. Air Force’s C-17 program.
The remainder, a mixture of full-time, part-time, and contract employees, work at the plant Boeing purchased in July from Vought Aircraft Industries or at Global Aeronautica, a joint venture between Boeing and Alenia Aeronautica, of Italy.
But the decision to locate an entire assembly facility here is of a whole other order of magnitude, and marks the first time the company has reached outside its Seattle hub to establish a new manufacturing facility.
The new line will augment one near Seattle and help Boeing recover from delays that have set the 787 back at least 2 1/2 years.
Boeing’s decision came after failing to reach a no-strike deal with Seattle-area workers. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers have shuttered Boeing’s factories near Everett, Wash., at least four times in the past 20 years, including a two-month strike in 2008.
Last month, workers at the former Vought plant voted to decertify their involvement with the union.
“No one factor led us to choose North Charleston over other possible sites,” Coyle says. “The union situation in Washington was one factor, but equally important was the involvement and interest of state and local lawmakers who came forward with an [incentive] package that made South Carolina very competitive for us.”
South Carolina officials are already lauding the decision as the most important economic development announcement in the state since BMC chose to build a manufacturing plant near Greenville 15 years ago.
“Boeing’s decision to expand their presence in our state with an infusion of jobs and capital investment — the largest announcement in South Carolina history —- represents not only enormously good news for our state’s economy, but also a telling dividend from our state’s continued efforts to better our business climate,” Gov. Mark Sanford says.
While BMW brought an automotive cluster to the Upstate consisting of a bevy of suppliers, the supply chain serving Boeings new facility will be more global in nature.
“We’ve been supplying the Everett facility from sources all over the world, and I expect we’ll continue the same practice here,” Coyle says. “We have a few local suppliers in Washington, though not many, and basically what we’ve done is have supplies flown in and stored in a warehouse until we need them. We plan to do the same thing here.”
Those supplies will be flown into Charleston International Airport on the Dreamlifter, the modified 747 that has already become a common sight in Lowcountry skies.
Boeing currently has no plans to utilize the Port of Charleston, Coyle says.
Boeing’s decision came as lawmakers in Columbia approved a basket of financial incentives designed to entice the company to expand its commitment to South Carolina.
Coyle declined to comment on the size of the aerospace giant’s investment in the state, saying those figures will be disclosed in future financial statements Boeing files with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.