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No deals, but plenty of work at air show

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By Chuck Crumbo  
June 28, 2013

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said he’s often asked if a state delegation closes any deals when it goes on a trade mission like last week’s Paris Air Show.

Hitt has to shake his head and say, no.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt
Bobby Hitt
“Actually, the air show is not where deals get done,” Hitt said. “Deals get closed-in conference rooms. ... Showing up at an air show doesn’t guarantee anything is going to happen other than you’re going to have to catch a ride home.”

The air show, however, offered the state’s 16-member delegation, led by Deputy Commerce Secretary George Patrick, an opportunity to conduct 81 meetings with a range of companies that might expand their operations to South Carolina to be closer to a major customer — the Boeing Co.

Those companies also may be suppliers to the European consortium Airbus, which is building a single-aisle passenger plane assembly facility in Mobile, Ala., about 500 miles southwest of Columbia.

The air show also offered Commerce Department staffers an opportunity to meet a number of company officials in one place over a short period of time. “It’s sort of like the food court at the mall,” Hitt said. “Everybody’s there.”

Boeing, which now employs about 6,700 at its North Charleston 787 Dreamliner final assembly facility, is a gift that keeps on giving, Hitt said.

Since 2009, the Boeing investment has led to the creation of more than 6,700 jobs in North Charleston. And, recently the company announced a second round of investment totaling $1 billion that will create another 2,000 jobs.

Altogether, South Carolina is home to more than 200 aerospace-related companies, which employ 23,000 workers.

Hitt didn’t delve into details about the meetings held in Paris other than to say the air show gave delegation members and the companies being courted an opportunity to get to know each other.

Much of the homework, though, was done beforehand, Hitt said.

“When you sit down to court someone in a corporate sense the best thing you can do is know as much about their business as you can,” Hitt said. “It helps us better understand what it takes to recruit one kind of company or another.”

Staffers learn about a company’s needs such as workforce, facilities and infrastructure issues like power, water, waste disposal and roads.

The information can be helpful when a company finally calls and says it’s considering expansion and wants to see what South Carolina has to offer, Hitt said.

The state’s 16-member Paris Air Show delegation led by the deputy commerce secretary included Charlie Farrell, executive director of the Aerospace Task Force; Ford Graham, the department’s Europe managing director; and agency staffers.

The group also included the S.C. Power Team, an economic development alliance of the state-owned electric utility, Santee Cooper, and the state’s 20 electric cooperatives. Other regional organizations represented included Central S.C. Alliance, Charleston Regional Development Alliance, Charlotte Regional Partnership, Upstate S.C. Alliance, Economic Development Partnership and Southern Carolina Alliance.

Gov. Nikki Haley and Hitt, who went to the Paris show in 2011 and the Farnborough Air Show in England in 2012, did not attend this year’s event.

Haley’s presence was necessary at the previous shows because she headed a new administration and he was new to the Commerce Department, Hitt said.

“We needed to get to know everybody,” Hitt said. “We need to go and hook-up with senior executives and we continue, not just at the shows, but between the shows. We’ve had many, many meetings with many people, and we have very strong relationships with Boeing.”

The goal of the trip was to meet with prospects and companies that may want to locate or expand in South Carolina. The meetings were based on the potential of doing business or current situation such as having an active project with a company.

“You have supply lines that are thousands of miles long,” Hitt said. “As long as the supply line is profitable, they will stay where they are and send the parts in. As volumes and velocity and things come into play and they can make money, then they’ll look at moving.”

And when that call comes, Hitt said, “You have to be ready.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

Previous coverage

S.C. delegation conducts 81 meetings at international air show
Haley to be no-show at Paris Air Show

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