Study Concludes S.C. Aerospace Industry Expanding Beyond Southern Neighbors

worker cleaning airplane turbine

Columbia’s Metropolitan Convention Center was home to the Second Annual Aerospace Conference and Expo on Wednesday, August 26 and Thursday August 27. The two-day event was organized by the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, the McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research Center at the University of South Carolina, the South Carolina Aviation Association, and the South Carolina Department of Commerce. Boeing was the headline sponsor of the event, which brought together professionals in industry and business for speakers and workshops, all focused on the emerging aerospace industry in South Carolina.

Perhaps one of the most notable pieces of information gained from the conference is that South Carolina is outpacing North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama in private sector aerospace employment and revenue growth. This information comes from a study by Dr. Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist with the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, through a partnership with the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness and the Harvard Business School. The study was released at the conference on Thursday, August 27.

The study, which captured data from 1989 to 2012, looked at the aerospace cluster, which blankets aerospace manufacturing, air transportation, air transportation support services (private sector) and military aviation. In examining the aerospace cluster, the study examined the economic impact of the aerospace cluster in South Carolina, and what has been learned about aerospace in South Carolina since Aerospace Industry Day 2014, while also comparing the Palmetto State's growth to surrounding states.

Some key findings from the study include:

  • For every ten jobs created in the private aerospace cluster (aerospace manufacturing, air transportation, air support services), there are 12 jobs created elsewhere in the S.C. economy
  • From 2010-2012, South Carolina’s annual private sector aerospace employment growth increased by 15.5 percent, which exceeded North Carolina's (increased by 10.7 percent), Alabama's (increased by 2.5 percent) and Georgia's (declined by 2.3 percent).
  • From 2010-2012, South Carolina’s annual private sector aerospace revenue growth increased by 15.5 percent, which exceeded North Carolina's (increased by 8.1 percent), Georgia's (increased by 6.9 percent) and Alabama's (declined by 1.8 percent).
  • In private sector aerospace firm growth, South Carolina experienced an 18.7 percent increase, ranking third behind North Carolina (25.3 percent increase) and Alabama (21.3 percent increase) and ahead of Georgia, which ranked fourth with a 14.1 percent increase.

It is important to note that the private sector component of the aerospace cluster in South Carolina contains over 400 firms, and nearly 74 percent of those firms are small businesses with five or fewer employees. The aerospace cluster will attract other business to the state and can potentially give existing businesses an opportunity to grow.

The study also looked at the future for South Carolina’s aerospace cluster and how it can increase and improve. In a comparative study with Washington state, which has had an expanding aerospace cluster for almost 100 years, researchers examined what could help South Carolina move its aerospace presence beyond Charleston and Greenville. The potential for expansion is supported by the diversity of firms within South Carolina’s aerospace cluster, which is evident in that Boeing may hold a majority of the market in S.C., but a majority of firms are not within Boeing’s supply chain.

“As I’ve always said, when we get a lot of smart people together in one place, good things will happen. We will use the findings included in this report to continue the conversations about the future of our fastest-growing industry cluster,” said S.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt in a release by the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness. “Above all else, the report shows that aerospace is now a major pillar of South Carolina’s economy and will remain so for the foreseeable future.”

“The findings show South Carolina is competing well with other states, but the findings also show there is an opportunity to increase firm growth and diversify the sectors within the industry,” said Ann Marie Stieritz, president and CEO of the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness in the same release. “The Council is guided by this information as we continue our work with individual companies and the support chain to establish a robust aerospace industry in South Carolina.”

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