Incredible Technology and Innovation: Annual Aerospace Expo Begins Tuesday in South Carolina

Richard Breen

Monday, August 28th, 2017

Members of academia, the business community and government from around the Palmetto State will focus attention on the burgeoning aerospace industry this week during the South Carolina Aerospace Conference & Expo.

The event runs Tuesday, Aug. 29, through Thursday, Aug. 31. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s activities will be held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center at 1101 Lincoln St., while the bulk of Thursday’s events will take place across the street at the University of South Carolina Alumni Center.

Last year’s gathering drew 536 attendees and featured 50 booths for the expo. This year’s attendance is tracking comparably to last year, according to Adrianne Beasley, one of the event’s organizers. The expo is expected to feature more exhibitor companies than in 2016, she said.

While exhibitors are setting up Tuesday, there will be a business-to-business matchmaking session for aerospace suppliers, original equipment manufacturers and tier 1 suppliers.

“We’ve got seven OEMs and over 100 suppliers signed up for the B2B,” Beasley said.

Also Tuesday, the University of South Carolina will be conducting tours of its Center for Predictive Maintenance and McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, which are both part of the College of Engineering and Computing. USC recently welcomed the inaugural 48 students into the introductory course for its aerospace engineering major.

“Hopefully someday they will be the new leaders of the industry,” said Michel van Tooren, McNair Center director.

Wednesday’s agenda includes a keynote address from Gov. Henry McMaster, along with speakers such as Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, Steve Townes of Ranger Aerospace and a K-12 education panel. Conference participants will have the opportunity to fly Lockheed Martin Corp.’s T-50A cockpit demonstrator.

The T-50A is a training jet for fighter pilots being developed by Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. Lockheed Martin has South Carolina facilities in Beaufort and Greenville.

“They have never brought the T-50A to Columbia,” Beasley said. “That will be very cool.”

Thursday is dedicated to technical symposiums on topics such as strategic diversification and advanced manufacturing.

While aerospace firms such as Lockheed Martin have operated in the Palmetto State for decades – as has a significant military aviation presence – the arrival of The Boeing Co. in 2011 shined a spotlight on the industry’s economic development potential.

“They challenged the university to start doing something to help train their workforce,” van Tooren said.

The idea for an aerospace expo sprung from an industry appreciation dinner that used to take place during Aviation Week. The first expo, a one-day event, was held in 2013.

“The first year, we were hoping for about 200 people and about 20 booths,” said Beasley, who serves as director of aerospace initiatives for the S.C. Council on Competitiveness. “We ended up with 350 people and were putting booths anywhere we could.”

According to a 2015 report from the Council on Competitiveness and USC, the aerospace cluster now supports more than 102,000 jobs and is responsible for a $17 billion economic impact in the state. From 2010-15, job growth in the sector was 11.4 percent.

Along with USC and the Council on Competitiveness, other organizers include the S.C. Department of Commerce, S.C. Aeronautics Commission, SC Aerospace and the S.C. Aviation Association.

Online registration for the event closes at noon Monday. On-site registration will take place Wednesday and Thursday at the convention center. For information, visit southcarolinaaerospaceconference.com.