Two states, same goal at London air show

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Niki Haley and Commerce Department officials will attend an international air show in London next week to market South Carolina to Boeing suppliers, in hopes they’ll locate in the state as Boeing ramps up production in North Charleston, the state commerce secretary said Thursday.

Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire also is leading a contingent of officials from the state and Snohomish County at the London air show, seeking companies to commit to bringing jobs to the Evergreen State.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt called the Farnborough International Air Show in London the biggest marketing event of the year for his agency and the state’s regional economic development alliances. About 50 meetings have been lined up with companies that supply aircraft materials, one-third of those with Gov. Haley, he said.

“We’re primarily focusing on the supply chain for Boeing,” Hitt said, adding that some companies also have contracts with Lockheed Martin, which has an aircraft maintenance facility in Greenville.

The first Boeing 787 made in South Carolina took its maiden flight in May and is to be delivered to Air India this summer. A second plane has been built.

Those milestones make this trip especially important, Hitt said.

Attending the aviation industry sales show is not about closing deals, he said. It’s about making contacts for eventual deals, as it becomes more profitable for suppliers to have a plant nearby than to ship their materials overseas and across the country to North Charleston, he said.

“It’s not an economic development event, but we use it that way because all the people we’re interested in talking to are in one location,” Hitt said. “If we want to be an aerospace hub in the Southeast, we need to build those relationships and be ready. … It takes time until the business plan is ripe for them to make money.”

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.

Haley arrives Sunday, in time for a reception that kicks off the event, and leaves Wednesday. Commerce officials will attend the entire week.

Hitt said the governor’s presence is crucial because company CEOs want to talk directly to the state’s CEO.

The cost is expected to exceed $100,000, though taxpayers aren’t footing the whole bill, Hitt said. Neither a total nor a breakdown will be available until after the trip.

Haley was criticized for a similar trip to the Paris Air Show last June that 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.

Next week’s trip includes no side economic development visits by state officials and one less member of the governor’s staff. Also not attending this time are Hitt, a State Ports Authority representative, and Michael Haley, who reimbursed $1,440 to the state Sept. 14 for his expenses, according to the Commerce agency.

That’s more than a week after the Post and Courier of Charleston reported on the trip’s costs, using heavily redacted documents received from a Freedom of Information Act request.

Hitt said meetings at the Paris Air Show led to economic development announcements that helped expand South Carolina’s “aerospace footprint.”

In the last year, the Commerce agency has announced that seven aircraft supply and repair companies are coming to the state, bringing a combined 890 jobs and $102 million in investment.

The state first attended the air shows in 2005.

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