Why South Carolina? Why now?

CW guest columnist Tom Lemire (T.F. Lemire Consulting Inc., Irvine, CA, US), comments on the aerospace industry's current attraction to this particular spot on the US map and wonders if it's the beginning of a trend.
#787 #boeing #precursor


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The news was a logical extension of prior announcements, but it still made many business people pause and wonder: On July 30, 2014, Boeing announced that final assembly of the 787-10, the newest and longest member of the 787 Dreamliner family of airplanes, will take place exclusively in North Charleston, SC, US. Larry Loftis, VP & GM, 787 Program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (Seattle, WA, US), went on to say, “We’re happy with our growth and success in South Carolina ….”

Not long before, in February 2014, Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan) announced it had purchased about 400 acres of commercial land in Greer, SC, where it plans to build a facility for the manufacture of precursor and TORAYCA carbon fiber.

This brought back memories from 1992, when Toray Composites America (TCA, Tacoma, WA, US) built a prepreg facility across the street from Boeing’s 777 assembly plant in Frederickson, WA. It was a key strategic element in becoming part of Boeing’s supply chain. More importantly, it set a standard that others are now starting to follow — namely, that you need to be a responsive and geographically well-sited supply member. 

I suspect that Toray patiently waited many years before prepreg sales from Frederickson made financial sense, and they were forced, in the interim, to find other markets, recreational and industrial, for their prepreg during the aerospace slowdown. More important, it underscored the patience and sense of shared responsibility that have been hallmarks of this Japanese company. 

Toray is neither the first nor will it be the last to move to South Carolina. More recently, we heard that Sigmatex High Technology Fabrics, a strong, UK-based carbon fiber weaver with US operations in Benicia, CA, had announced in October 2014 that it will invest US$12 million in a 7,000m2 facility on 20 acres in Orangeburg County, SC. A mid-2015 opening is expected, and it has options to expand to 13,935m2, and as much as 41,800m2

The Carolinas already have a strong collection of aero-qualified weavers, particularly BGF’s Cheraw, SC, site, Chomarat’s Anderson, SC, plant and the SAERTEX USA plant in Huntersville, NC. Other weavers, such as JPS (Anderson, SC), Barrday (Charlotte, NC), Pharr Mfg. (McAdenville, NC) and CFA (Taylorsville, NC) have found specialty niches in composites. Fiber producers such as Cytec Industries in Piedmont and Rock Hill, SC, along with Innegra Technologies (Greenville, SC) continue to grow. All of these investments take time, money and patience — especially for aerospace qualifications.

South Carolina’s Governor, Nikki Haley, inherited highly successful efforts begun in the late 1980s to recruit business to the state, and she is prominently front and center at many ribbon cuttings. The South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA, Columbia, SC) uses its Advanced Technology International (ATI) affiliate to manage research programs, and The Composites Consortium (TCC) has 37 member companies that actively participate in research. SCRA has helped transform South Carolina from a former textile capital to a knowledge economy. 

Finally, like it or not, South Carolina is a right-to-work state, unburdened by labor unions and the potential work stoppages they can initiate.

Perhaps the famous advice credited to Horace Greeley, “Go West, young man,” was premature. Yes, the gold rush of 1849 brought banks to San Francisco, and helped establish railroads throughout the West. But from this Californian’s viewpoint, the importance of being close to your supply chain has many executives scrambling to reassess location as a crucial element of their business models.

It remains to be seen how such regionalization in the composites industry plays out. Until now, composites businesses in the US have clustered around customers and end-markets without much direct intervention from state or local governments. I’m reminded of Boeing’s impact on Seattle; Brandt Goldsworthy’s influence on Southern California; Hercules and Thiokol stimulating composites in Salt Lake City, UT, US; the impact of General Dynamics’s F-16 in Ft. Worth, TX, US; and Wright Patterson AFB’s presence in Dayton, OH, US. South Carolina has clearly benefited from Boeing’s decision to locate its second 787 assembly plant there, but the state also has strategically targeted the composites supply chain to help grow its economy and employment. 

If, as we hope, the composites industry will enjoy many more years of growth, we might look back on South Carolina as the first of several states that recognized the value and potential offered by our industry.