House Budget Writers Push $40 Million for Training Center for Boeing Workers, Others

February 25, 2015

Investigative Reports

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BoeingAerospace giant Boeing says it has 7,744 workers in South Carolina, including “full-time and part-time contingent labor,” according to its website.

The S.C. Technical College System says it has “recruited and trained 3,457 candidates for Boeing” through its “readySC” program since the fall of 2009, and has spent nearly $35 million on the “Boeing project,” agency spokeswoman Kelly Steinhilper told The Nerve on Tuesday.

That works out to be an average of $10,124 in taxpayer-funded training costs per trainee. Last week, the state House Ways and Means Committee proposed spending at least another $40 million for a new aeronautical training center that would include, according to Steinhilper, instruction for workers for Boeing, its suppliers and future, potential “aeronautic cluster” companies.

The budget-writing committee approved a $497.1 million bond proposal for various projects statewide, including borrowing $35 million to construct the training center at Trident Technical College in North Charleston, where Boeing’s main S.C. plant also is located.

On top of that, the committee, chaired by Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, proposed spending $5 million from the state’s capital reserve fund – one of two main “rainy-day” funds, though lawmakers in recent years have raided it –  for the proposed training center.

In her written response Tuesday to The Nerve, Steinhilper said training at the planned 215,000-square-foot center, to be located on 25 acres of undeveloped land on Trident Technical College’s main campus, would “include Boeing workers as well as aeronautic vendors and suppliers, academic credit students and continuing education students.”

“People educated and trained through Trident’s SC Aeronautical Center would gain sought-after skill sets that would benefit all organizations that fall in South Carolina’s aeronautic cluster as well as prospective organizations within the industry looking to locate in the state,” she said.

Asked if supplier workers trained through the proposed center would be used for Boeing only, Steinhilper replied, “No, it would be for the entire aeronautical cluster whether they be suppliers to Boeing or not.” She did not respond by publication of this story to a follow-up question about whether there currently are other aeronautical companies besides Boeing that would use supplier workers trained at the center.

The Ways and Means Committee’s state spending plan will go next to the full House for its consideration; the full House’s version would move to the Senate Finance Committee. Any differences between the chambers’ final versions likely would be worked out in a conference committee, and the compromise version would go to Gov. Nikki Haley for her approval or veto.

Candy Eslinger, Boeing’s spokeswoman in South Carolina, did not respond to written questions this week from The Nerve.

The Nerve in January 2010 projected the total long-term taxpayer cost, including various special sales, income and property tax breaks, of locating a Boeing 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston at a minimum of $500 million. In October 2009, the Legislature – with no prior discussion and in a rare, special session – unanimously approved the first $170 million in taxpayer-funded bonds for the Chicago-based company.

Another $100 million in bonds for Boeing was approved a short time later. In exchange for the $270 million, the company promised to create at least 3,800 jobs and invest $750 million by the end of 2016. With interest, the total cost of those bonds will be at least $360 million over 15 years, The Nerve reported earlier.

In less than two weeks during the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill authorizing a $120 million bond package for Boeing in exchange for the creation of at least 2,000 jobs and a minimum investment of $1.1 billion. Haley quickly signed the legislation into law.

Asked Tuesday if the S.C. Department of Commerce has informed the state Treasurer’s Office, which conducts state bond sales, about job-creation and investment figures to date with the 2013 bond package, Treasurer Curtis Loftis in a written statement replied, “No, our office has not received this type of documentation from Commerce.”

The Nerve also asked whether the Ways and Means Committee contacted the Treasurer’s Office about the total estimated cost, including interest, of the $497.1 million bond proposal approved last week for the planned aeronautical training center and other projects. In his written reply, Loftis said, “At this time, we have not been asked for a fiscal analysis impact by the Legislature.”

Asked about job-creation and investment targets with the 2013 bond package, Commerce spokeswoman Allison Skipper replied in an email Tuesday to The Nerve: “Boeing committed in early 2013 to invest another $1.1 billion and create 2,000 new jobs by the end of 2020. This is above and beyond the company’s initial commitment of $750 million and 3,800 jobs, targets Boeing reached more than four years ahead of its certification deadline of 2016.”

Skipper said Commerce is “not directly involved” with the proposed training center and didn’t help with drafting the $35 million bond proposal.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.