S.C. won’t say if state’s in play for new Boeing plant

rburris@thestate.com ashain@thestate.comDecember 11, 2013 

— Tuesday’s deadline for states eager to land a multibillion dollar Boeing manufacturing deal in their backyards by proposing lucrative incentive offers has come and gone.

But South Carolina leaders still weren’t saying much Tuesday about whether the state was among more than a dozen expected to submit bids for producing Boeing’s 777X jet.

“We are always in good talks with Boeing,” Gov. Nikki Haley said. “If something gets sent in, you’ll know about it.”

Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman, a Florence Republican who has worked closely with Boeing, said, “we’ll have to see,” when asked Tuesday about a South Carolina bid for the new production line.

“We’ve always been in interested in Boeing,” he said. “We stay interested in all cases.”

It’s not unusual for public officials to be mum in the high stakes game of competitive economic development when a potential deal is looming. But several states have been vocal about the incentives they will offer the Chicago-based aerospace giant.

Boeing put out a request for proposals to host its planned 777X facility to 12 to 15 selected states last month after negotiations between the company and union machinists fell through, jeopardizing possible placement of the new plant in Seattle.

The machinist union refused Boeing’s effort to replace their traditional pension plan with a contribution-based savings plan, a few days after Washington state lawmakers put together a $9 billion tax break package for the 777X, causing the company to call for bids for the plant from elsewhere to be in by Tuesday.

Media reports have mentioned South Carolina as a possible site, along with a variety of other states, including North Carolina and Georgia. Efforts Tuesday to reach Boeing for comment were unsuccessful. The S.C. Department of Commerce declined to comment.

Boeing is seeking a long runway, land to build a 4.2 million-square-foot factory, a number of tax breaks and access to interstates, rail lines and possibly a deep-sea port, according to a copy of the company’s pitch to states obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“I think from Boeing’s point of view, we would have an advantage simply because they’ve already got the training going on here and they’ve got a work force development program and infrastructure and it’s a good location,” said Doug Woodward, a veteran University of South Carolina economist. “I think we ought to go after it aggressively, and we have been.”

The company says the 777X will be the “largest and most-efficient twin-engine jet in the world” made from light-weight composite materials like the Boeing’s 787 aircraft.

In South Carolina, Boeing operates a 6,000-employee 787 jet manufacturing plant in North Charleston. The Lowcountry plant, which began rolling out Dreamliners in the spring of 2012, was the company’s first outside of the Seattle area.

This year, South Carolina gave Boeing another $120 million in incentives – on top of the state-record $450 million to lure the company initially – to expand the North Charleston plant.

The expansion is expected to involve the 737 jet and could add 2,000 workers.

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