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Boeing Bets on South Carolina for 787

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - Boeing will put the second assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner aircraft in North Charleston, the company said Wednesday. It's the first time Boeing has gone outside its Seattle base for a new production facility, which promises thousands of jobs for the area by 2012, the company said. The decision came after labor problems with union workers in the Seattle area.

Tim Coyle, a Boeing vice president in charge of the 787 project, said groundbreaking for a new 576,000-square-foot facility will be in November, with construction starting in mid-2011. The first of a planned three 787s a month will fly out of Charleston International Airport in early 2012, he said.

The North Charleston production plant "also will have the capability to support the testing and delivery of the airplanes," the company said in a statement.

"Establishing a second 787 assembly line in Charleston will expand our production capability to meet the market demand for the airplane," said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

About 2,600 workers work for Boeing in North Charleston, including 100 who support the Air Force's C-17 program.

The rest, a mixture of full-time, part-time and contract employees, work at the plant Boeing bought in July from Vought Aircraft Industries, or at Global Aeronautica, a joint venture between Boeing and Alenia Aeronautica, of Italy.

The new production line will augment one near Seattle and help Boeing recover from delays that have set the 787 back at least 2½ years.

Boeing selected South Carolina after failing to reach a no-strike deal with Seattle-area workers. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers have shuttered Boeing's factories near Everett, Wash., at least four times in the past 20 years, including a 2-month strike in 2008.

Last month, workers at South Carolina's Vought plant voted to decertify their involvement with the union.

"No one factor led us to choose North Charleston over other possible sites," Coyle said. "The union situation in Washington was one factor, but equally important was the involvement and interest of state and local lawmakers who came forward with an [incentive] package that made South Carolina very competitive for us."

The decision came after weeks of a pitched public-relations battle between South Carolina and Washington state. South Carolina officials lauded the decision as the most important economic development announcement in the state since BMW built a manufacturing plant near Greenville 15 years ago.

"Boeing's decision to expand their presence in our state with an infusion of jobs and capital investment - the largest announcement in South Carolina history -- represents not only enormously good news for our state's economy, but also a telling dividend from our state's continued efforts to better our business climate," Gov. Mark Sanford said. "For us, that means lowering taxes, easing regulatory burdens in our state's tort and workers' compensation systems, and keeping South Carolina a right-to-work state."

There is a difference, however. Where BMW led to the creation of an automotive cluster upstate, consisting of a bevy of suppliers that followed it here, the supply chain serving Boeing will be more global in nature.

Supplies will be flown into Charleston International Airport on the Dreamlifter, a modified 747 that is a common sight in Lowcountry skies. Boeing has no plans to utilize the Port of Charleston, Coyle said.

Lawmakers in Columbia approved a basket of financial incentives to lure the company to South Carolina. Coyle declined to comment on the size of the aerospace giant's investment in the state, saying those figures will be disclosed in financial statements Boeing files with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.


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