Boeing's arrival in the Charleston area has helped make the aerospace industry a $17.4 billion enterprise in South Carolina, with four military air bases around the state accounting for most of the impact, according to a study by the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business.
The four bases -- Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Joint Base Charleston, Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter and McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover -- employ more than 36,600 people and have an economic impact of about $9.4 billion, about 54 percent of the total aerospace industry, according to the study released Tuesday.
The aerospace private sector is catching up to the military, however, thanks to huge job growth since 2007, research economist Joseph Von Nessen said. The annual job-growth rate is 11.4 percent in the private sector, well above the 1.9 percent state average.
Von Nessen said the study, which took several months to complete, counted 466 aerospace companies statewide, topped by Boeing's operations in North Charleston, which started after the company bought facilities from two 787 Dreamliner partners in 2008 and 2009. The aircraft giant manufactures sections of fuselage for Dreamliner planes at its North Charleston plant, where it also completes final assembly of the planes.
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The companies employ 17,114 people and contribute $8 billion to the state's economy. The majority of the companies are small -- 74 percent employ no more than five people, the study said. Including the military, there are more than 54,000 jobs in the aerospace industry statewide.
Thanks to Boeing, Charleston is the most lucrative region for the aerospace industry in South Carolina. Beaufort County and the surrounding area rank second in the state on the strength of the Beaufort air station, Von Nessen said.
The study didn't break down the individual economic impact of each air base, but the air station employs 4,226 people and contributes $1 billion to the state's economy, public affairs officer Capt. Jordan Cochran said.
In total, the aerospace industry brings in more than $532 million in tax revenue annually in the state.
From 1990 to 2007, an average of only 38 aerospace jobs were created each year. In the five years since Boeing's arrival, 1,032 jobs have been created per year, according to the study.
The effect is similar to the growth in the automotive industry after BMW started production in Spartanburg County in 1994. After BMW's arrival, 1,035 jobs were created per year between 1994 and 2007, helping to build the $27 billion industry of today, the study said.
Although it falls short of the effect the automotive industry has on South Carolina, the aerospace industry's growth ranks between the military, at $16 billion, and the tourism industry, at $18 billion.
The study, titled "Uncovering the Stealth Cluster: The Economic Impact of Civilian and Military Aerospace on South Carolina," is a partnership among the Moore School of Business; the university's Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research; the S.C. Department of Commerce; and New Carolina, South Carolina's Council on Competitiveness.
The high-skilled positions in the aerospace industry also mean high wages, according to the study. The average aerospace job pays $70,749 in South Carolina, well above the $41,206 average salary in the state.
The network of intertwined manufacturers that already provides for the military and larger companies must continue to grow to make the aerospace industry a "major pillar" of South Carolina's economy, Von Nessen said.
South Carolina schools are trying to create a skilled workforce to fill the openings. USC's McNair Center is developing an undergraduate aerospace degree, according to executive director Martin Keaney.
At the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the Transitioning Military Program continues to enroll new veterans, offering training and certificate programs to prepare them for federal license tests. Nearly 130 have passed the courses as of July, with many moving on to take the license tests and find employment, program director Paul Merritt said.
The (Columbia) State staff writer Jeff Wilkinson contributed to this report. Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.