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TWISC: South Carolina's Growing Aerospace Industry

July 16, 2019 - Posted in This Week in South Carolina by Sean Birch

Host Gavin Jackson sat down with Susie Shanon, president and CEO of the S.C. Council on Competitiveness, and Carl Washburn, the department head of aviation at Greenville Technical College.

Highlights:

  • The aerospace industry in South Carolina is one of the state’s fastest growing industries, with an average revenue growth rate of 25 percent
  • There are more than 400 private aerospace firms in the state, employing about 55,000 people
  • The boom in aerospace can be linked to Boeing’s arrival in the state 8 years ago, which has generated more interest from students

Summary:

With an economic impact of $25 billion, aerospace has become one of South Carolina’s fastest-growing industries. The President and CEO of the SC Council on Competitiveness, Susie Shannon, called aerospace one of the state’s rock star industries. The state has more than 400 firms, which employs about 55,000 South Carolinians. Shannon also points out that some people assume the aerospace industry is clustered around Charleston because of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner plant, but the distribution of firms is roughly even across the state’s three regions. Shannon sees the growth as sustainable because of the growth in the supply chain and the crossover with other state industries, such as the automotive industry.

The SC Council on Competitiveness sent a small group to the Paris Air Show last month, the world’s largest aerospace exhibition. Twenty Boeing 787 Dreamliners will be built exclusively at the company’s North Charleston plant as part of a deal reached with Korean Air and Air Lease. While some question the use of taxpayer money for these trips, Shannon says it is necessary to keep the aerospace industry growing. “We have to invest a little bit of money in order to have that return on investment down the road,” Shannon said.

As the aerospace industry continues to grow, the state is also preparing students for the workforce. Seven high schools have started offering aerospace engineering classes and there are three FAA approved Aviation Maintenance Technician Schools in the state. Carl Washburn is the department head of aviation at Greenville Technical College, one of the FAA approved schools. He spoke about the school's new facility, which is triple the size of the old facility and has allowed enrollment to be expanded from 120 students to 200 students. Greenville Tech’s program is working with Lockheed Martin, which opened a new Greenville plant in April, to train students for working on F-16 fighter jets.

Washburn also says the influx of major companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin is raising students’ excitement for STEM fields and is fueling the employment pipeline. “Just hearing the name Boeing, I think, has helped significantly in enrollment,” Washburn said.

Looking forward:

Susie Shannon says the future of aerospace in South Carolina is bright and the industry should continue to grow. This episode was part of PBS’s Summer of Space, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. You can watch the three-part series, Chasing the Moon, here.

 

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