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Merrimack Valley

April 5, 2014

The South rises again: Aerospace manufacturing takes off

Aerospace manufacturing takes off in Southern states

The South is home to auto giants Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Nissan Motor Co. It is increasingly attracting some of the biggest names in aviation, including Boeing Co. in South Carolina, Airbus in Alabama, Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. in Georgia, and GE Aviation in North Carolina.

Aerospace companies are taking a cue from the auto industry and moving their manufacturing operations to Southern states. The region’s lower costs, generous state incentive packages, and right-to-work laws that make it hard for unions to organize are motivating these companies to choose the South.

Four Southern states are among the top 10 states in aerospace job growth between 2007 and 2012, with South Carolina far ahead of the others, thanks to Boeing. Aerospace jobs in South Carolina jumped by more than 600 percent over that time period, from 865 workers to 5,685 workers, said Amy Holloway, president of Avalanche Consulting of Texas, who analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Boeing selected North Charleston, S.C., in 2009 to produce its 787 Dreamliner aircraft, in large part because of the $900 million in tax breaks and other incentives the state offered over 30 years.

North Carolina ranks second in aerospace job growth with a nearly 34 percent increase over the same period. California, Connecticut, Kansas, Texas, and Washington state still have 65 percent of the country’s nearly 500,000 aerospace jobs. But of those states, only Washington state has seen an increase in aerospace jobs since 2001, Holloway said.

The other states have either remained relatively unchanged or lost employment. California, for example, has lost more than 8,000 aerospace jobs since 2002, including Lockheed Martin, which moved its corporate headquarters to the Washington, D.C., area. Besides opening its plant in South Carolina, Boeing in 2012 announced it was closing its Wichita, Kan., plant and moving that production to Oklahoma, Texas and Washington state, affecting more than 2,100 workers.

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