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THE ISSUE: Economic impact of aviation, aerospace business; OUR OPINION: ‘Boeing boost’ continues to hold promise for T&D Region

South Carolina is celebrating aviation this week at a time when the business of flight has never been a bigger player in the state.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler has joined in proclaiming Aug 17-23 as “General Aviation Appreciation Week.” General aviation contributes $417 million annually in economic activity in South Carolina.

“Mayor Butler’s proclamation highlights to the public the economic benefits and valuable services that general aviation provides to Orangeburg and South Carolina,” said Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America. “We sincerely thank the mayor and the city of Orangeburg for recognizing this important industry.”

Regarding aviation in the state, other officials offer these assessments:

* “General aviation is a means to stay connected for thousands of businesses and communities across South Carolina,” said Mark Baker, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

* “Business aviation helps South Carolina companies reach customers, suppliers and markets, thus allowing them to operate in an increasingly competitive environment,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association.

* “Aviation is a lifeline to communities, a driver for business and a passion for many across our country,” said Jack Pelton, chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

* “South Carolina’s network of airports helps the state’s companies, farms, and communities reach necessary goods, services, and businesses,” said Kim Stevens, interim president and CEO of the National Association of State Aviation Officials.

* “General aviation and local airports are essential to the competitiveness and growth of businesses in South Carolina and around the nation,” said Thomas L. Hendricks, president and CEO of the National Air Transportation Association.

The aviation observance comes a week after University of South Carolina research economist Joseph Von Nessen with the Darla Moore School of Business released the findings of a study on the economic impact of the state’s growing S.C. aerospace cluster, which now has a $17.4 billion economic impact and supports more than 102,000 workers.

The study, titled “Uncovering the Stealth Cluster: The Economic Impact of Civilian and Military Aerospace on South Carolina,” was released Aug. 19 by New Carolina — South Carolina’s Council on Competitiveness and the university’s Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research during the state’s first ever Aerospace Industry Day held in Columbia.

An industry “cluster” is a group of complementary businesses that focuses on or serves the same industry. They come together to increase efficiency and innovation within that industry, while boosting the overall economy in a region. Clusters attract more businesses to an area and provide more opportunities for existing businesses to grow.

South Carolina’s aerospace cluster includes private-sector firms operating directly within the industry (known as the “aerospace core”), the state’s four military aviation facilities and smaller private companies supporting the aviation and aerospace industries. Among the key findings of the study:

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* Since 2010, South Carolina’s aerospace core has had an average annual employment growth rate of 11.4 percent, which is approximately eight times higher than the employment growth rate for the state over the same time period.

* Since 2010, South Carolina’s aerospace core has had an average annual firm growth rate of 19.2 percent, with the majority of growth originating in small firms with five or fewer employees.

* The average compensation for a civilian aerospace employee is $70,748, which is significantly higher than South Carolina’s average employee compensation of $41,206.

* The aerospace cluster generates an average of $532,096,021 in state tax revenue per year.

S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt cited Boeing as the catalyst for South Carolina as an emerging leader in aerospace, with the corporation’s presence in the state continuing to grow.

“Much like BMW accelerated the growth of the state’s automotive industry, South Carolina’s aerospace industry has grown exponentially since Boeing selected the Charleston region in 2009,” Hitt said. “And the ‘Boeing boost’ continues as we recruit major global suppliers — like carbon fiber manufacturer Toray Industries — that serve the aerospace cluster in South Carolina.”

As much as Orangeburg’s commitment to general aviation through the city’s Orangeburg Municipal Airport remains a sound one in the pursuit of economic development, it is our hope that the “Boeing boost” will ultimately lead to more enterprises associated with the aerospace industry finding reason to land in our locale with its proximity to Charleston.

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