Boeing Exec Says SC is "Cornerstone" of Company Future

Date: 11/12/2010

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By Daniel Brock


Published Nov. 12, 2010




A Boeing Co. executive said Thursday that the company plans to make its operations in South Carolina the “cornerstone” of the plane-maker’s future.

Ray Conner, Boeing's vice president and general manager of supply chain management and operations, said that Boeing and the state's efforts to train workers here will eventually "make South Carolina one of the great, great aerospace regions in the world."

Conner's comments came during a speech at the S.C. Chamber of Commerce’s 31st annual Summit at the Wild Dunes Resort and seemed to support talk among industry experts who say that Charleston could become Boeing’s focal point in the years ahead.

Conner, a 30-plus year industry veteran who started with Boeing in 1977 as a mechanic and describes himself as "Boeing Puget Sounds guy," said that the company is evolving.

"When I was first given the assignment," he said, “I was really excited about the opportunity to have a role in creating a new Boeing, and that’s really what we’re doing here; we’re creating a new Boeing.”

That sentiment will come into focus over the next several months, as Boeing completes its 787 Dreamliner plant in North Charleston and production begins in July 2011. The first wide-body jets are scheduled to roll out of the $750 million facility in 2012.

When the line is fully operational, three planes will be churned out each month.

"For the last 94 years, our company has been Seattle's most recognizable," Conner said. “And every airplane, every commercial airplane, that we have delivered has come out of one of our hangars on the Puget Sound. In early 2012, that is no longer going to be the case.”

While the first Dreamliners from that Puget Sound plant in Everett, Wash are supposed to be delivered next March, a fire aboard a test flight Monday has indefinitely halted the testing program while the company investigates the incident.

Boeing officials said that a power-control failure lead to an insulation fire that caused "significant" damage to the panel. Further inspection will take several days and is ongoing. It remains unclear if significant damage was done to any adjacent structure or systems, or whether the incident will cause delivery delays, officials said.

"We just had a slight little mishap the other day. That's why we flight test, right?" Conner said during his speech.

Boeing lost eight 787 sales this week, yet Conner said that 30% to 40% of the company's $321 billion backlog is tied to the new plane, which is three years behind schedule after numerous setbacks.

As for the workforce in South Carolina, Conner said that someone that starts as a new hire at the North Charleston plant could one day run it or assume an even larger role with Boeing.

"It happens," he said.

Last year, the state signed off on $33 million in worker training as part of the incentives deal that brought Boeing to South Carolina.

But the S.C. State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education, which oversees the training efforts, will request permission from the S.C. Budget and Control Board next month to spend nearly $3 million more. The money will go primarily toward equipment.

Conner, however, was upbeat.

"The dedication of the Chamber coupled with the enthusiasm of our work force has brought the future to the present," he said. “You made a bet on us, and you made the right one.


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