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County looks for boost from plant

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County officials are hoping to reap big rewards from the establishment of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston.

Though the plant will be about 70 miles away from the county seat, it presents opportunities for the county to attract suppliers to Boeing, create new jobs and generate business opportunities for existing industries.

Attracting new residents brought to the area by Boeing, a leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft, is also a likelihood the county is excited about.

“It’s such a huge project and any time you have a project of this magnitude, there are always some spillover benefits to neighboring counties,” said Wayne Gregory, the county’s economic development director.

He and County Administrator Sel Hemingway are working with the state Department of Commerce and the North Eastern Strategic Alliance, a regional economic development organization, to make certain the county is poised to seize those opportunities.

They’ve attended meetings throughout the state to stay abreast of what’s coming down the pipeline as Boeing moves forward with plans and are diligently passing that information on to local businesses so they’ll be aware of any chances they might have to benefit.

Economic development officials will meet with local business representatives to deliver an update Jan. 14. Hemingway said they’ll also be made aware of marketing actions the county is taking.

Efforts are being made to contact any potential suppliers and new entities that may be interested in relocating or opening new facilities in South Carolina as a result of the Boeing plant, according to Hemingway.

“Our goal is to make sure they know Georgetown County is here, and know the resources we’ve got available and the proximity to opportunities in Charleston,” Hemingway said.

In hopes of creating an advantage over the competition, Hemingway and Gregory recruited County Council Member Glen O’Connell and Litchfield Country Club resident Bob Bicknell as advisors.

O’Connell went to work for Boeing right out of high school. He started on the production line, advancing to finance manager and retiring in a managerial position in the company’s information technology department.

Bicknell worked with Boeing for 16 years through one of it’s supplier companies, Bendix, which manufactured brakes for aircraft.

O’Connell and Bicknell have been providing the county with information about the company’s inner workings to help it better prepare to meet the needs of Boeing and its suppliers.

“They’re getting sort of inside information from Glen from a managerial side and from me on a lower level,” Bicknell said. “I know the intricacies of production and how the company ticks.

I would suspect very few people have the knowledge the two of us combined have about how the company thinks and how it works to manufacture aircraft, and I think that’s going to give Georgetown County an edge.”

Included in the information O’Connell and Bicknell have provided are contacts within the company.

“It’s a vast organization, and you need to know where to channel your communications,” Bicknell said.

Knowing as much as he does about Boeing, O’Connell said he’s confident of the opportunities Boeing will present the county.

“Knowing the culture of that business, I would not perceive the distance to the western part of the county to the Boeing facility in North Charleston as being any kind of challenge at all,” he said. “With the rail service and decent surface road facilities, the possibilities are good.”

In Seattle, there’s a distance of about 60-80 miles between Boeing’s most northerly facility and its most southerly, O’Connell said.

“It’s not unheard of to be at both those facilities in a single day. Boeing is that spread out, so I really think the distance here is negligible,” he said.

Other county officials are also optimistic.

“I don’t think there are enough adjectives to describe all the good things Boeing is going to bring to this area,” said County Council Member Jerry Oakley.

The county is hoping suppliers to Boeing can be lured to set up shop in the county’s industrial park on Highway 521. A spec building at the site is almost complete, and Gregory said the county has an aggressive plan to market it toward the aviation industry.

“We feel like that’s the target for us now,” Gregory said.

He’s hopeful the county will see its efforts start paying off by the year’s end.

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