Exclusive: Report Shows S.C. Aerospace Industry Continuing Rapid Job Creation

Richard Breen

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

South Carolina’s aerospace industry continues to produce jobs much more quickly than the state’s overall economy, according to updated research released by the S.C. Council on Competitiveness.

The findings, presented Tuesday at the South Carolina Aerospace Conference and Expo in Columbia, show that aerospace jobs grew at a rate of 13 percent from 2010-17, compared to general statewide job growth of 2.1 percent.

“We have continued to see the aerospace cluster expand and thrive,” said Dr. Joseph Von Nessen, a research economist at the University of South Carolina. Von Nessen conducted the study, as well as a previous analysis of the sector released in 2016.

Von Nessen said he was pleasantly surprised by the sector’s continued growth.

“It’s still an emerging cluster, so it’s important to maintain the momentum,” he said.

The core aerospace cluster in South Carolina includes aircraft manufacturers as well as air transportation and related support services. There’s also a significant aviation-related military presence in the state.

By the end of 2017, the core cluster accounted for 20,421 jobs in South Carolina, up from 17,114 two years earlier. Add military employment and the sector grows to 55,506 jobs.

As with any industry, private sector aerospace and military operations create jobs outside the cluster by spending money on South Carolina goods and services. That results in a $24.8 billion annual economic impact in the Palmetto State, up from $17 billion two years prior.

Von Nessen pointed out that the cluster extends beyond The Boeing Co.’s massive assembly operation in North Charleston. Aerospace job growth is still 5.1 percent when Boeing is removed from the equation.

“That is important, because we want to have a diversified cluster,” he said.

The job creation has continued into 2018, with announcements from companies such as ACL Airshop in Greenville County (32 jobs), Lowcountry Aviation Co. in Colleton County (36 jobs) and RBC Aerostructures in Oconee County (22 jobs).

Total employee compensation in South Carolina averages $78,526 per year for aerospace, compared to $56,526 for manufacturing and $42,512 for all jobs. Von Nessen said that creating higher-paying aerospace jobs can help boost the sluggish wage growth that has marked the current economic expansion.

“We have all the tools for ongoing success,” he said. “The key is how do we continue to move the ball forward?”

Von Nessen said he would be assisting the Council on Competitiveness as it examines the aerospace supply chain, seeking opportunities for improvement.

Other details from the study:

- Including indirect impacts, aerospace supports 129,000 jobs statewide, up from 102,000 two years ago.

- While there are more aerospace jobs in the Lowcountry, there are more private-sector aerospace firms in the Upstate.

- Average annual core aerospace revenue grew at a 25.1 percent rate between 2010-17.

The two-day conference, held Oct. 9-10 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, included an exhibit hall with company and student presentations, as well as technical symposiums, workforce development and career information, and a B2B matchmaking event.

The fifth annual event drew 574 exhibitors and participants, plus an additional 463 high school students, according to organizers. Organizers included the Council on Competitiveness and USC, as well as the S.C. Aeronautics Commission, SC Aerospace, S.C. Aviation Association and state Department of Commerce.