Boeing is soliciting bids for a South Carolina factory site to assemble 737 Max engine nacelles, the shells that house the engine, but that doesn’t seem all the company has in mind for the building, reports the Puget Sound Business Journal. The proposed structure is to cover 220,000 square feet with an option to expand to 600,000 square feet, according to a story in the Charleston Post and Courier.
Boeing submitted its request for proposals on May 9, according to Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger. “We have begun soliciting bids at this time because of the potential lead times for permitting, design and construction,” she said in an email.
The news follows a string of announcements about Boeing buying land in the area around its North Charleston plant, and moving engineers to the region. The 737 Max structure would be the first major new Boeing building in the area since it completed its 787 assembly and delivery buildings.
“Any and all operations that Boeing wishes to bring here we very much encourage, and we know we have the capacity and work force to handle them,” said Ryan Johnson, public information officer for the city of North Charleston, in a phone interview. “It’s obviously very terrific news for the entire region.” The new building is to need 300 parking spaces with room to add another 400, and will include 60,000 square feet of office space, said the Post and Courier story.
The building is reportedly to be within 20 miles of Boeing’s North Charleston factory, and Johnson said he would expect no problem finding a suitable site. “North Charleston does have quite a bit of land that’s available for manufacturing,” he said. “Regardless where it goes in that 20 miles, it will be terrific for the region.” Eslinger declined to confirm the square footages in the request for proposals.”It’s really too early in the process to say more,” she emailed. “We won’t share the specific details of that RFP.”
A building of 220,000 square feet would seem to offer ample space for far more than just assembling engine nacelles. It’s also significant that the 737 Max nacelles are made of composites, and that Boeing is pulling the work away from an outside supplier, suggesting that Boeing may be concluding it can cost-efficiently build more carbon composite aircraft components in-house — as long as it builds them in lower-cost South Carolina.
While Boeing does fabricate large composite rudders in its factory in Frederickson, outside Tacoma, North Charleston has been acquiring skills in carbon-composite technology. Boeing already fabricates the aft end of 787 fuselages there now, winding the carbon fiber onto forms called mandrels and then curing the structure in heated high-pressure vessels called autoclaves.
Almost on cue with Thursday’s news, Arlington, Va.-based aerospace commentator Loren Thompson published a piece in Forbes entitled “Boeing accelerates shift of workers away from Puget Sound birthplace.” In it, he notes the series of incremental steps Boeing is making in South Carolina, adding up to what he calls an “unfolding trend.” “There does seem to be a concerted effort to move jobs to other parts of the United States,” Thompson wrote about Boeing’s moves. “Places where costs are lower, unions are less cantankerous, and politicians make the world’s biggest aerospace company feel more welcome.”
Thompson notes Boeing’s recent deal with the South Carolina legislature to invest $1 billion in South Carolina and create 2,000 more jobs, in return for $120 million in state incentives. Those jobs will pay an average of $65,000 a year, he wrote, “high by South Carolina standards, but not so attractive compared with what machinists and engineers are making around Puget Sound.” Read More.