This work week for Mark Farris and Karlisa Parker begins in familiar territory, but far from home.
Farris and Parker, economic directors for York and Chester counties, respectively, are in England for the high-stakes aviation and aerospace recruitment game called the Farnborough Air Show.
Farris, Parker and other representatives from South Carolina bring the highest card to the table. Their ace is Boeing. Observers say this will be Boeings show. The firm will have a flyover of its 787 Dreamliner the first South Carolina-built 787 rolled off the Charleston assembly line in April and it will push its new fuel efficient version of the venerable 737 airliner, the 737 Max.
Farnborough is one of the aviations premier events. The 64-year old show is held every two years. In 2010, it attracted more than 120,000 visitors to 1,500 exhibits from 40 countries. Orders for planes, parts and other materials placed at the show exceeded $4.7 billion.
If you listen carefully in the expansive exhibit hall, you likely will hear persistent Southern drawls stretching the word Airbus into at least four or five syllables. The drawls wont be quiet. They will be uttered in celebration as Alabama rejoices in Airbus decision to build a new, $600 million plant for its A320 airliner in Mobile.
For Alabama, its an ace every bit as powerful as South Carolinas Boeing.
Other cards in South Carolinas hand include BMW, but that falls short of Alabamas four-of-a-kind hand: Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota. South Carolinas counter is, well, you cant go anywhere without tires, and we make all of them Bridgestone, Continental and Michelin.
But Farnborough is more than verbal poker.
It is about relationships and marketing, and you can assume the men and women from Alabama will come with a game plan as masterful as anything Bear Bryant designed for his Tide teams and possibly the trickery weve come to expect from Cam Newton and the Panthers. Newton won a national championship at Auburn, and those going to Farnborough want to win just as badly.
The game is who can recruit the companies who supply Boeing and Airbus, and who can recruit the companies who supply the suppliers. Airbus decision will create more pressure on those companies to locate as close to Mobile as its economically efficient.
Thats why Alabamas official delegation includes representatives from airports, power companies, economic and industrial authorities, even the Mobile Chamber of Commerce.
About the only thing they didnt bring was someone representing the battleship Alabama, moored in Mobile Bay. Maybe they didnt need that big gun, or they remembered what happened when aviation and battleships clash and South Carolina does have an aircraft carrier.
Mississippi wants those companies too, and the state is sending an equally long list of representatives, as is Florida. Dont forget Washington, Boeings home state, or Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, New York or North Carolina all of which have an official presence at Farnborough.
And thats just a list of U.S. domestic delegations. There is a longer list of international visitors and companies.
It doesnt hurt to have a high-powered voice at the table, or one willing to hold a reception. S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is returning to Europe, one of at least six state governors who have publicly announced they plan to be there.
When Haley went to the Paris Air Show last year, she was criticized for spending more than $200,000 on the states efforts. (The S.C. Department of Commerce spent about $158,000 on last years mission, and the states public-private regional development alliances collectively kicked in another $64,000.)
S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt has said the states costs this year will exceed $100,000 and that state dollars, money from regional development groups and private cash will be used. The state held a Sunday night reception for about 100 guests.
(Farris and Parkers trips are being funded by the private foundations that support economic development in York and Chester counties respectively. Farris said he expects to spend about $4,400, while Parker said she expects to spend about $5,000 on the trip.)
Haley and her parties schedule includes meeting with between 45 and 50 aviation executives most of whom have a relationship with Boeing. The governor is expected to attend about one-third of those meetings, Hitt said.
Farris and Parker have one-on-one meetings scheduled with companies that have indicated interest in relocating or expanding. They will make pitches for York and Chester counties, but more importantly, they will listen.
It is Parkers third trip to Farnborough and Farris second. Their initial visits were spent learning to speak the language. Each knew automotive; they needed to become fluent in aeronautics. On successive visits, they learned to listen to the difficulties companies faced in expansion or relocation. Most companies in the aviation business require FAA certification and must exactly meet industry standards.
Sometimes, Farris said, it is not so much about incentives as it is helping companies through such regulatory processes.
Farris returned from Farnborough in 2010 a winner. He met with officials from Winbro Technologies and took the train to their plant in Coalville, about 90 miles from Farnborough. Winbro is a manufacturer of advanced machining technologies, producing cooling holes and forms in and on components that are used within aero engines and industrial gas turbines. The company primarily serves the aerospace and industrial gas turbine markets.
Farris cant say for certain that his Coalville visit convinced Winbro to come to Rock Hill, but it did not hurt. He can say that Farnborough is an efficient way of meeting possible economic partners.
At the end of show, it will be easy to tally the Boeing and Airbus orders. Who wins the recruitment game will take longer. Southern states traditionally have held an advantage because of lower employment costs and right-to-work status. But recent studies show the gap between doing business in the South and Midwest has narrowed.
Will Alabama win? Will South Carolina win? Will Washington rally? Or will the winner be located in Europe, Africa or Asia?
For the winners, the wait will be worth it.
Don Worthington email@example.com