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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, May 2013
WEB Exclusive story

Dream Comes True - Again - in South Carolina

Boeing expands its Dreamliner plant in Charleston, creates 2,000 new jobs.

Boeing in October marked a historic milestone with delivery of the first 787 Dreamliner built at its North Charleston, S.C., facility to Air India.
Photos courtesy of Boeing

Left to right: Capt. Amitabh Singh, Air India Pilot; Dinesh Keskar, senior vice president of Asia Pacific and India Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes;K. M. Unni, Air India Board Member:Jack Jones, vice president and general manager, Boeing South Carolina.
Left to right: Capt. Amitabh Singh, Air India Pilot; Dinesh Keskar, senior vice president of Asia Pacific and India Sales, Boeing Commercial Airplanes;K. M. Unni, Air India Board Member:Jack Jones, vice president and general manager, Boeing South Carolina.

ess than one full year after rolling out its first aircraft at its assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C., Boeing announced April 9 that it will invest $1 billion and create 2,000 new jobs over eight years at its manufacturing complex for the 787 Dreamliner.

"Boeing is now part of the fabric of South Carolina," said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley upon the occasion. "So this is family and when family does well, we all get excited."

The work force of South Carolina is the most important member of that family, according to Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina.

Speaking at the Spring 2013 Professional Forum of the Industrial Asset Management Council in Charleston three weeks before the expansion announcement, Jones pulled back the curtain on Boeing's South Carolina operation and offered a glimpse of what was in store at the 240-acre plant that first began production of the Dreamliner in July 2011.

Boeing went from groundbreaking in November 2009 to production at the 1.2-million-sq.-ft. Dreamliner assembly plant in less than two years.

"In order to meet our timeline and satisfy our expectations, we had to have a supportive government and a capable, available and motivated work force," said Jones. "When we rolled out our first Dreamliner on April 27, 2012, and conducted our first flight on May 23, it was done with a work force that had never touched an aircraft before."

Today, he says, "we are very close to Puget Sound (Washington) in terms of labor costs per plane," and the 6,100-strong Boeing South Carolina work force now produces the most technologically advanced commercial airliner in the world.

"The delivery process for this aircraft is very complicated," he notes. "We will produce 10 Dreamliners a month – seven in Seattle and three in South Carolina. So far, we have rolled out eight aircraft here in South Carolina and delivered four. We are currently building one a month here and will go to two every 45 days."

Worldwide, more than 850 Dreamliners have been ordered by 58 customers, Jones said in March. "The total market size expects to be above 3,000 units. If you wanted to order a Dreamliner today, you couldn't take delivery of one until 2020."

Jones said it was critical for South Carolina to provide the highly skilled work force required to assemble the most technologically complex airliner ever built. "Improvements to this aircraft over traditional jetliners are everywhere," Jones noted. "It has better lighting, 40 percent larger windows, lower cabin pressure, more oxygen, increased cabin humidity, cleaner air and all-digital sound."

Everything had to come together perfectly to satisfy Boeing's rigorous requirements, added Jones. "We had to have a favorable business environment, logistics and infrastructure," he said. "Our international customers now fly into South Carolina. And it was also important that our plant be environmentally responsible. Our goal here is zero waste to landfill, and the PV solar installation on the roof of our new Final Assembly Building produces up to 2.4 megawatts of power."

The success of the South Carolina plant led to Boeing's first Dreamliner delivery to Air India on October 5 of last year.

For the latest expansion, the state is providing $120 million in incentives for upfront costs such as utilities and site preparation.

"Boeing has already exceeded its initial capital investment and job projections for its North Charleston campus. Boeing South Carolina employs more than 6,000, and its current estimated impact on the region's economy is $4.6 billion annually," says David Ginn, president and CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

"We're thrilled they are committed to deepening that investment and adding more knowledge worker jobs, like engineering and IT, to the Charleston market," he adds. "Boeing's rapid rise from construction to aircraft rollout in two-and-a-half years validates that Charleston offers the competitive advantages the aerospace industry needs to be successful here. It's why Brookings rates Charleston the number one U.S. metro for manufacturing jobs growth and a fast growing international aerospace/aviation hub."

According to a report released last year by the Brookings Institution, Charleston experienced the largest growth in manufacturing jobs of any U.S. metro area from the first quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter of 2011.

Boeing South Carolina also makes mid- and aft-body assemblies for 787s. Jones said that seven such assemblies are put together each month at the North Charleston plant, and that number is slated to rise to 10 by this fall.

"With unprecedented demand for commercial airplanes, including a forecast of another 34,000 airplanes required over the next 20 years, Boeing is positioned for significant and sustained growth in the years ahead," company spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said in a statement.

South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell issued a statement that praised the partnership that has developed over the years between the state and Boeing.

"As a Legislature, it's our job to create an environment that fosters economic growth so the private sector can do what government can't – create sustainable new jobs," he said.

Boeing on May 9 rolled out of the North Charleston factory the first 787 Dreamliner to be built at the increased production rate of seven airplanes per month. Boeing’s 787 program is on track to achieve a planned 10 per month rate by year-end.

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