Alabama, S.C. in race to grow aerospace industries
June 26, 2013
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  • MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama officials, led by Gov. Bob Brantley, spent the past week at the 2013 Paris Air Showrecruiting suppliers to serve Airbus’ $600 million manufacturing facility under construction in Mobile.

    While Alabama trolled Paris for aerospace deals, a federal report showed that South Carolina’s aerospace industry is rapidly growing.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina’s aerospace sector was the fastest growing in the nation between 2007 and 2012, thanks in large part to the 787 Dreamliner assembly plant that Boeing opened in North Charleston in 2009.

    The facility now employs 6,700 workers and the S.C. Commerce Department reports that more than 200 aerospace-related companies have invested billions of dollars in the state and employ some 23,000 workers.

    Historically, the two states have been developing a similar manufacturing sector.

    South Carolina landed BMW in 1992. Alabama followed a year later when Daimler AG announced plans to build a Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County.

    In April 2012, Boeing rolled the first South Carolina-built 787 Dreamliner out of the company’s 1.2 million-square-foot final assembly plant in North Charleston. Less than three months later, Airbus announced plans to build in Mobile.

    In Paris, Alabama officials were optimistic that suppliers will follow Airbus to the state.

    “We have been able to meet with dozens of potential suppliers,” said Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield. “The timing was perfect for us to have substantive conversations with companies that could provide integral services to Airbus at the Mobile facility, including potential tier-one suppliers.

    “Further, we were able to drive more deeply into the supply chain and speak to tier-three and four suppliers that represent opportunities for job growth across the state over the next three to five years.”

    Canfield thinks there could be possible expansions from existing Alabama aerospace companies as the result of Airbus’s plans to locate its first manufacturing facility in North America. The plant is scheduled to produce the A320, a single-aisle, passenger aircraft.

    “We believe that there is strong potential, following our meetings, that a supply relationship can exist between these companies and Airbus in Alabama for the production of the A320 family of aircraft,” Canfield said. “These companies are geographically spread throughout the state.”

    One of those companies is GKN Aerospace, a British company that has a facility in Tallassee, about 35 miles from the state capital of Montgomery.

    GKN, which plans to open a facility in Orangeburg, S.C., produces components made of composite materials at the Alabama plant for customers such as Airbus, GE Aviation, HondaJet and Sikorsky.

    Alabama officials expect many Airbus suppliers will locate along a 180-mile stretch of Interstate 65 from Montgomery to Mobile.

    “We know there are going to be suppliers looking for locations,” said Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said. “Those suppliers will be looking to be close but outside the labor area of the main plant.”

    In South Carolina, where the state’s aerospace industry grew by more than 600% between 2007-12, the “juggernaut shows no signs of slowing,” the Charleston Regional Development Alliance said.

    Boeing recently announced plans to invest another $1 billion over the next five years in its S.C. operations and create 2,000 jobs.

    “Charleston was really in the spotlight at last week’s Paris Air Show,” said David Ginn, president and CEO of the alliance.

    Ginn was part of the South Carolina delegation, led by Deputy Commerce Secretary George Patrick that travelled to the world’s biggest aerospace show to recruit more investment to the Palmetto State.

    The Charleston region is home to approximately 70 aerospace and aviation-related businesses, including companies such as Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Booz Allen Hamilton.

    “With the buzz about Boeing’s expanded footprint in Charleston, suppliers and other global aviation companies were all ears to learn more about what our state has to offer,” Ginn said.