South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that no business deals have been signed during her visit to an international airshow outside London, but the sessions are a starting point for attracting new business to the state.
“We’re not closing deals here because we’re making new meetings out of these,” Haley told reporters in a conference call from the Farnborough Airshow.
Aerospace giants Boeing Co. and Airbus have announced large international orders at the show, which the governor described as “total chaos” with its thousands of attendees, aircraft buzzing overhead and multiplicity of displays.
Haley argued that it is vital for South Carolina to have a presence at the event because Boeing is building 787s in North Charleston and Lockheed Martin has an aircraft maintenance facility in Greenville. Airbus has announced it will build a plant in Alabama to assemble its A320 jets.
Attracting aviation suppliers to South Carolina means they can also service the Alabama site, Haley said.
“There’s a lot of buzz about that,” Haley said. The governor said selling the state “is easy” because the cost of doing business is lower, the state can provide a trained workforce willing to conform to each firm’s needs, and it doesn’t have lots of red tape or union issues.
“The meetings we have had here have been valuable,” she said.
While she was one of three or four governors at last year’s airshow in Paris, Haley said double that number are in Farnborough.
“They see this as an industry that’s on the rise and they all want a part of it,” she said. “We’re all fighting for the same thing, which is: ‘How do we get these companies to come to our state?’”
Last week, Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt said Farnborough would be the biggest marketing opportunity of the year for his agency and that officials would court suppliers for Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Haley says she held about 15 sessions with various company officials on Sunday and Monday.
Overall, Commerce Department officials scheduled about 50 meetings with business leaders during the show. Haley said she plans to return to South Carolina on Wednesday.
The governor said South Carolina has been “the buzz” at the session, because the state has been so successful in attracting members of the aviation industry.
Boeing officials have said the North Charleston plant will produce four planes by the end of the year. They hope it produces about three-and-a-half planes a month by the end of next year.
The South Carolina delegation consists of four Commerce officials, including Deputy Secretary George Patrick — a retired Air Force general — Haley, her government liaison and two security guards for her, as well as two people from each of the six regional alliances, according to Commerce and the governor’s office.
Commerce Department spokeswoman Amy Love said the estimated cost of the trip is “around $100,000 with support from alliances, partners, sponsors and private sector” and that costs to the taxpayer will be less than last year’s Paris airshow trip.
Haley was criticized for the trip to Paris last June because it cost taxpayers $160,000 through Commerce Department spending alone. That included expensive hotel rooms and, for the first time, renting a chalet for events. That trip extended to Munich, where officials toured BMW headquarters. Haley’s husband also attended. Critics called it a taxpayer-funded junket and vacation.