Spartan Posted November 30, 2004 Report Share Posted November 30, 2004 Airplane plant to land in Charleston $300 million complex to hire 645 and supply components to Boeing BY JOHN P. MCDERMOTT Of The Post and Courier Staff A Texas aircraft parts maker has picked a site at Charleston International Airport for a $300 million manufacturing complex that will employ 645 workers, a cutting-edge project that the state hopes will fuel more jobs and investment for South Carolina. The decision caps a nearly year-long site search by Dallas-based Vought Aircraft Industries Inc. and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica, which are forming a joint venture to supply Boeing Co. with highly sophisticated structural components for a new lightweight passenger jet. Their new U.S. manufacturing plant, code-named Project Buffalo, will be built on undeveloped land near the entrance to Charleston International, according to a person familiar with the companies' plans. Gov. Mark Sanford and executives from Vought and Alenia are scheduled to announce details of the project, including hiring plans, Wednesday in North Charleston, that person said. State lawmakers received invitations to the event Monday. Boeing has tapped Vought and Alenia to make about 26 percent of the fuselage and other structural components that will go into its 7E7 Dreamliner, a fuel-efficient widebody passenger jet designed to replace the 757 and 767. Boeing is Vought's biggest customer. The 7E7 contract calls for the delivery of the first lightweight fuselage sections in 2006. Boeing hopes to complete the first of an estimated 3,500 Dreamliners in 2008. Vought and Alenia also seriously considered a site near Mobile, Ala., but officials there abruptly withdrew from the negotiations two months ago. The Global TransPark near Kinston, N.C., emerged as another potential finalist for the plant, and Vought's home state of Texas also pursued the project. While details have not been finalized, Vought and Alenia will likely require a fabrication plant where they will build sections of the 7E7, according to reports. The partnership also will operate an adjacent "integration" center where pieces will be fused together and equipped with hydraulic systems, tubing and insulation. The Dreamliner is being closely watched within the aerospace industry because its assembly marks a radical departure from traditional aircraft manufacturing. For example, major components will be made offsite by suppliers and flown to Washington state for final installation. Many of the structural pieces will snap together.Also, about half of the airframe, including the wings and the parts that Vought and Alenia will manufacture, will be formed not from aluminum but from lightweight composites, such as carbon fiber and resin epoxies, to reduce fuel consumption. Noting that the bulk of the materials research will be based in Charleston, economic development sources said the region will likely attract additional investment and jobs from other aerospace companies and other manufacturers, such as carmakers, interested in using those materials. Vought and Alenia plan to build their manufacturing complex on property owned by the Charleston County Aviation Authority, near the Trident Research Authority campus on International Boulevard. The permitting process is to begin after this week's formal announcement. Sam Hoerter, airports director for Charleston County, declined to comment Monday. Vought has said the availability of tax breaks and other financial assistance would weigh heavily in its site selection. Tom Risley, the company's chief executive, said this summer that the winning location must have the necessary funding in place and that he did not want to wait for legislation to be passed. That prerequisite might have given South Carolina one of its biggest edges over competing states. At the Commerce Department's behest, lawmakers this year quietly passed a bill that provides up to $50 million in bond funding for businesses that invest in a major air cargo facility. The Vought-Alenia venture would qualify for the assistance if it operates at least 20 flights a week from Charleston. Sen. Larry Grooms, who supported the bill, said last month that the legislation was tailored for an unidentified prospect and was deliberately buried in an unrelated piece of tax legislation so as not to tip off competitors. Grooms also said he understood that the relatively swift passage of the bill "made a tremendous impact" on the business the state was targeting. The Vought-Alenia joint venture also will likely qualify for a relatively new tier of incentives that allows the state to spend up to $250 million on roads, rail improvements, land and certain other needs for large employers that meet certain investment and hiring thresholds. To date, automaker BMW is the only company that has qualified for that funding. Vought spokeswoman Lynne Warne declined to comment Monday. Within economic development circles, the project represents a major consolation prize for South Carolina. A year ago, the state Commerce Department and Charleston County were pitching the 500-acre airport site to Boeing in an effort to win the 7E7 final assembly plant and the 1,200 jobs that it would have created. Instead, the plane maker decided last December to build the facility in Everett, Wash., the longtime home of its commercial aircraft business. When Vought and Alenia launched their search, they started with Boeing's top picks because their basic requirements were so similar. For instance, the companies need to be near a long runway because many of the large components they will handle will be transported from an Alenia plant in Italy on specially modified 747 cargo planes. They also have to be close to a deepwater port because some materials will be brought in by ships. "Charleston was a very close second in the Boeing deliberations ... and really impressed not only the Boeing folks but also other 7E7 team members, including ... suppliers," a person familiar with the negotiations said. This person said certain "intangible" advantages also played a role. Alenia executives, for example, "fell in love with Charleston because of its international flavor and international appeal." http://www.charleston.net/stories/113004/loc_30vought.shtml Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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