Report Highlights Southeast's Aerospace Appeal

Three new aerospace manufacturing facilities will impact the economic development landscape of Southeastern North Carolina, even though none of the plants is actually in the region. Boeing Corp.’s operations in North Charleston, S.C., Spirit AeroSystems’ plant in Kinston, N.C., and a HondaJet facility in Greensboro spell lucrative opportunities for aerospace-related suppliers, partners and service providers based in any of the 11 counties of North Carolina’s Southeast. Those findings, along with numerous others, were made in an NCSE-sponsored study by Sanford Holshouser Economic Development Consulting.

Consultants interviewed industry officials in the region and found most had positive feedback about the Southeast’s labor resources, regulatory climate, utility costs and access to the coast. “Labor strengths included access to numerous metalworkers, the presence of exiting military personnel and the availability of relevant community college training programs,” according to Crystal Morphis of Cary-based Sanford Holshouser. She recommends the region support existing assets, engage in product development and advocate for additional workforce readiness resources. “Business-related aviation is a growth area of the industry and might represent good opportunities for the region,” says Morphis. Southeastern North Carolina is competitive with comparable regions in South Carolina and Georgia, she adds.

A 2004 study of the Southeast’s industry clusters did not identify aerospace enterprises as an opportunity. In the intervening years, however, much has changed in the aviation and aerospace sectors that has made them worthy of consideration as a marketing target, according to the Sanford Holshouser report. The region is home to several general aviation airports operating without controlled airspace, making them convenient bases for aviation testing, says the report, which was completed in February 2011. The longtime presence of GE Aircraft Engines in Wilmington is another unique asset. So, too, is the Port of Wilmington, which can connect aerospace firms in Southeastern North Carolina to high-growth aviation markets abroad.