By Mike Fitts
Published March 5, 2010
Partners and subcontractors gave Boeing solid insight into the quality of workers available in South Carolina, according to the company’s head of human resources.
Rick Stephens, Boeing’s senior vice president for human resources and administration, spoke Wednesday in Columbia at the Townes Award dinner hosted by the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics.
Before the event, he talked about Boeing’s perception of the South Carolina work force.
Those Boeing partners with experience in South Carolina “gave us a really good sense about the capability and capacity of employees,” Stephens said. The state’s commitment to K-12 education and university also were evident, he said.
Boeing is investing at least $750 million to build a 1.2 million-square-foot assembly plant near the Charleston International Airport. The buildings footprint is the size of about 12 football fields, the company has said.
Boeing is both working and investing with Trident Technical College to make sure that what’s taught there meets the company’s needs, Stephens said.
“We wanted to make sure that the technical college community system here is all lined up around our requirements and they can deliver what our needs are.”
Boeing has to be committed to doing its own work force training, too, he said.
Much was made of South Carolina’s nonunion workers as Boeing’s decision on the second assembly site for the 787 Dreamliner loomed.
A direct relationship to workers without a union is always preferred, Stephens said. But he cast that issue as one part of the larger question of production reliability and the ability to make deadlines on the much-delayed airliner.
Adding the second production line in North Charleston adds flexibility and capacity on both coasts.
“It’s really about work and where we can get the best value,” Stephens said.
The question for Boeing, Stephens said, is simple: “How do we make sure we can always deliver planes to our customers?”
Buying out Vought’s North Charleston operation does help bring more of the 787 Dreamliner project under Boeing’s direct supervision. Having the Charleston assets in-house lets Boeing continue to refine the composite fiber technology that is key to the new, more fuel-efficient airliner.
It also gives the company better control over the production process. The 787 continues to have an ambitious global supply chain, but Boeing perhaps “went a little too far on the outside on outsourcing” in the past, Stephens said.
Boeing’s Lowcountry concentration helps get more of the complicated production procedures in-house, he said.