The decision by Boeing to bring its 787 Dreamliner production facility to North Charleston could kick start economic recovery in the Lowcountry and across the state, say a leading economist and several Beaufort County business leaders.
The aerospace giant's announcement Wednesday might also buff up the state's tarnished national image after being the butt of jokes for months because of Gov. Mark Sanford's affair and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst.
"If Mark Sanford goes off to Argentina people might laugh at us," University of South Carolina economist Doug Woodward said. "But what they are seeing now is what's important. It's going to be a story that resonates for decades, rather than the political stories that have been circulating recently."
Woodward called the decision "comparable to BMW" -- the transformational 1992 announcement that the German automaker was coming to the Upstate.
"This is going to change perceptions" of South Carolina, he said. "People will view us as a place where the economic recovery is taking hold."
Woodward added that because the Boeing brand is so recognizable worldwide, it will boost the state's efforts to recruit other industries.
Leaders in Beaufort and Jasper counties agreed.
"When there is an announcement like that, it brings you national and international exposure," said Bill Miles, president and CEO of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, "and I'm sure there are companies out there right now considering where they might relocate and thinking about South Carolina and the Lowcountry."
"We believe Boeing's decision to produce the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston will pay dividends for the entire Lowcountry and have a similar impact to that of BMW's presence in the Upstate," Dean Moss, chairman of the Lowcountry Economic Alliance, said in a news release.
The release said Beaufort and Jasper counties are positioned to capture ancillary aeronautics businesses, some of which might also be attracted by the Joint Strike Fighter, next-generation military jets, some of which are expected to be stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
"It's a big coup," said Carlotta Ungaro, president and CEO of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. "It ties in with the things (the Lowcountry Economic Network) is working on. The labor force coming out of our air station could work (in North Charleston) and stay in this area, too. This ties in with so many things.
"Ancillary manufacturing, which has been so big for BMW in the Upstate or Mercedes in Alabama -- we're definitely candidates for those kind of plants."
Marjorie Thomas, area director for the state Employment Security Commission, also said workers in Beaufort County and surrounding areas could benefit from Boeing's announcement.
The county is already home to many former military personnel with aviation experience who might be good candidates for jobs with Boeing, she said.
Many local residents already travel to Charleston for work, she said,
"It is a commutable distance," she said. "We would certainly hope it would mean some jobs for our local people."
Boeing's announcement came the same day lawmakers unanimously approved a massive package that allows the state to spend up to $170 million on economic development bonds for a single project. The package also provides sales-tax breaks on construction materials, computer equipment and fuel for test flights and transporting aircraft.
Boeing would have to create at least 3,800 jobs and invest more than $750 million within seven years to take advantage of the various inducements.
Ungaro said Thursday she had not yet examined the General Assembly's incentive package, but if Boeing is able to meet its obligations, "it should be nothing but good" for the state and the Lowcountry.
Woodward said the size of the package made the legislature's decision "a no-brainer" and, like the state's deal with BMW, should more than pay for itself over time.
"It would have to take a pretty big incentive package to make this a bad deal," Woodward said. "BMW's (impact) happened over time. And, it turned out, it was bigger than they promised."
BMW Manufacturing Co. has pumped more than $8.8 billion into South Carolina's economy. And for each job created at the company's Upstate plant, 4.3 jobs are created throughout the state, according to a September 2008 study by USC's Moore School of Business.
The (Columbia) State staff writers Jeff Wilkinson, Gina Smith and Wayne Washington and Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette editor Jeff Kidd and staff writer Josh McCann contributed to this story.
What the state gave to Boeing:
State legislators approved an incentive package Wednesday to lure Boeing to the state. To qualify, the company would have to create at least 3,800 new, full-time jobs and invest at least $750 million in the state over seven years. The incentives would:
• Exempt the company from sales tax on fuel used in test flights and flights to transfer aircraft between manufacturing facilities.
• Exempt the company from sales tax for computer equipment purchases.
• Immediately allow the company to pay no sales tax on construction materials, rather than wait for a 2011 phase-in.
• Ensure the company could negotiate with the state to pay little corporate income tax for 10 years.
• Allow the state to issue up to $170 million of economic development bonds, allowing the company to borrow at a lower interest rate.
Why South Carolina over Washington?
• Boeing's workers in North Charleston are nonunion and receive less pay than their Washington state counterparts. In September, the Charleston workers voted to oust the Machinists union.
• The S.C. General Assembly offered large financial incentives -- including $170 million for infrastructure and other tax breaks -- to lower Boeing's costs.
• State-funded training at tech colleges diminishes the disadvantage of local workers' inexperience. Charleston's Trident Technical College has classes geared specifically to Boeing's needs.
• Charleston has one of the deepest ports on the East Coast and an airport with runways long enough to handle the largest airplanes built.
• Boeing reportedly was unhappy with the business climate in Washington state -- unionized workers there who went on costly strikes, and that state's shortage of college-educated engineers.