Columbia, SC (Greenville Online) -- Gov. Nikki Haley said aviation companies considering South Carolina as a possible location for new factories want to know if the state can provide the engineers they need.

The answer is yes, said Greenville consultant Lee Stogner, chairman of the South Carolina Engineering Cluster, which promotes engineering and engineering education statewide.

Stogner said South Carolina has made big strides in recent years to generate more engineers.

He pointed to the new engineering-focused A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School in downtown Greenville and an engineering-focused middle school that's planned on the campus of Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research.

In Columbia, the University of South Carolina is ready to launch three graduate degrees and an undergraduate minor in aerospace engineering this fall, assuming approval by the state Commission on Higher Education.

Stogner said members of the engineering cluster he founded in 2007 include the major university engineering schools in South Carolina and more than 300 engineering or engineering-related companies.

"We just need to get the signal from government," he said. "We need to get the signal from industry, and the team will come together and produce what's needed to help drive the economy of this state."

Haley was back in Columbia Thursday after three days at the Farnborough International Airshow near London, where she led a trade delegation focused on recruiting suppliers for The Boeing Co.'s new aircraft assembly plant in North Charleston, as well as defense contractors.

Haley, one of eight governors at the air show, said she met with 15 to 17 companies, and one of their questions was whether South Carolina could produce enough engineers.

"They want to know is it an issue when we get there that we will have the number of engineers that we need," Haley said. "And I told them their job was to come to South Carolina, let us know how many engineers they needed, and when they needed them by, and I would make sure they had them."

Haley said she'd spend the summer checking on "what we're doing to make sure that we have enough engineers for all these manufacturing plants, whether they're aerospace, automotive, high technology."

She said the companies are also examining the tax structures of U.S. states and their unionization rates.

The recent announcement by European aircraft maker Airbus of a new assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., means the global aviation industry's future U.S. investment is bound for the right-to-work Southeast, Haley said.

She said the South Carolina "started the dialogue" with companies considering new factories.

"These were brand-new, fresh calls," Haley said. "They're companies we know are going to need to do business with Boeing. They're companies that have national defense ties."

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserve and a member of the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees, also attended the air show, said Kevin Bishop, his spokesman.

Aviation and aerospace companies use the biennial air show, a major event for the industry, to announce new business.

General Electric Co. announced orders for 459 aircraft engines that use parts the company makes in Greenville County.

In the latest announcement on Thursday, GE said the parent company of United Airlines had agreed to buy 150 engines and long-term service for them in a deal valued at $5 billion at the U.S. list price.

GE earlier this week announced orders for 309 other aircraft engines that also use parts the company makes at its 235-worker plant in The Matrix industrial park along U.S. 25.

The company has more jet-engine manufacturing in North Carolina, with parts factories in Asheville, West Jefferson and Wilmington and engine assembly in Durham.

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