Representatives from European Union countries visiting Mobile had their eyes on the aerospace industry amid a proposed partnership between Airbus and Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier and challenges brought by United States-based manufacturer Boeing.
Consuls general from Belgium, France, Great Britain, Ireland and Germany took part in a business roundtable hosted by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce last week to discuss foreign investment in the city. The meeting took place a week or so after the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in Bombardier’s favor in a dispute with Boeing over tariffs the U.S. Department of Commerce initially placed on the company as a penalty for using Canadian subsidies to cut the price of C Series jets. The ITC ruling bars the Commerce Department from placing the penalty on Bombardier.
The ruling was good news for the city, as Airbus and Bombardier had previously announced a partnership that would bring the manufacturing of the C Series to a second final assembly line in Mobile.
Shane Stephens, consul general of Ireland and based in Atlanta, said he was happy to see the ITC’s ruling because Bombardier’s success has an impact on both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“It’s good for jobs in Northern Ireland,” he said. “We like things to go well for the people in Northern Ireland.”
As for any future actions by Boeing that may have an impact on Bombardier, Stephens said Ireland is generally pro-free trade.
“We’re pro-trade,” he said. “We’re pro-globalization.”
Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, Atlanta-based consul general for Great Britain, agreed the ITC ruling was good for the Bombardier facility in Belfast.
“It was a good outcome with the ITC,” he said. “It was a fair judgment and is a good outcome for Mobile.”
Pilmore-Bedford said he hopes Boeing will abide by the ruling.
Detlev Ruenger, Atlanta-based consul general of Germany, said he could not comment on the actions of Boeing, but said Germany supports “free trade and open borders.”
“German investment in this region has been successful over the past 30 years,” Ruenger said.
Germany and Mobile share a link, as another Airbus final assembly line is located in Hamburg. In addition, all the parts for the aircraft are brought to the Port of Mobile from Hamburg before being assembled here.
While in Mobile, Stephens also toured MAAS, an aviation paint shop located at the Brookley Aeroplex. He said MAAS was a point of pride for Ireland and its relationship with the U.S.
“We’re delighted to be able to show definitely that the economic relationship goes both ways,” Stephens said. “Irish companies invested in the U.S. employ 100,000 Americans.”
The aerospace industry in general serves as a specific point of pride for the Irish people, Stephens said.
“Aviation is where we can really show our talents,” he said. “We’re a global player in aviation.”
Airbus and MAAS are just two examples of Mobile’s success with direct foreign investment. Chamber President and CEO Bill Sisson called foreign investment a “hallmark” of the area’s economic development.
“Over the last five, six, seven years we’re in the top five in foreign direct investment,” Sisson told the delegation and visitors. “It’s having a huge impact on this community.”
More than 18 percent of the area’s employment comes from manufacturing jobs, Sisson said, and the area has seen a 32 percent increase in those jobs in the last five years. “A big part of that,” Sisson said, is from foreign investment.
Other examples of foreign investment Sisson mentioned are ST MAE with 1,200 local employees, Austal with 4,000 employees and SSAB, which is moving its North American headquarters and 80 executives from Chicago to Mobile.