COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- State Commerce officials will be in Paris next week without Gov. Nikki Haley to tout South Carolina's growing aerospace industry, Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said Thursday.
It marks the first time the Republican governor has not been part of the state's delegation at an international air show since she took office.
Hitt said Haley's presence at the 50th Paris Air Show isn't necessary. Previously, he has said Haley's attendance is essential to selling South Carolina because company CEOs want to meet with the state's CEO.
This time, the roughly 80 meetings lined up continue discussions with companies where a relationship already exists, Hitt said.
"The nature of these meetings is not meet-and-greets. They're more working meetings. This is a good sign," said Hitt, who won't go either. "A lot of negotiations are not between the principals."
South Carolina's 16-person delegation includes nine Commerce employees. Five of those, including an intern, are coming from the state's European office in Germany. Others include officials of local economic development groups. Hitt could not give an estimate of the trip's cost but pledged to release the spending afterward.
He attributed the meetings' more serious nature to Boeing's announcement in April that it will expand its 787 assembly plant in North Charleston.
The company plans to invest another $1 billion — doubling its investment since 2009 — and create 2,000 new jobs over the next eight years. The Boeing complex already employs about 6,000 people.
"It says South Carolina's a great place to manufacture planes and gets the attention of all their suppliers," Hitt said.
It took legislators just two weeks to approve a $120 million incentives package for Boeing's expansion.
Hitt believes Boeing can lead to a prosperous aerospace industry in South Carolina much like BMW, his former employer, grew the state's automotive industry. About 50 plants operating in-state provide parts to the German automaker, which has invested $6 billion in South Carolina over the last 20 years.
"We now aim to do that with Boeing," Hitt said. He said an aviation task force now exists within Commerce to report on the industry's infrastructure and workforce needs.
South Carolina is among states with an exhibit booth at the show's pavilion, where the delegation will hold a reception Tuesday.
"Our administration doesn't miss an opportunity to sell our state to executives from around the world," said Haley's spokesman, Rob Godfrey.
South Carolina has had a presence at international air shows since 2005.
Haley was criticized for attending the Paris Air Show in June 2011. Commerce's $160,000 spending on that trip included expensive hotel rooms and, for the first time, renting a chalet for events. That trip extended to Munich, where officials toured BMW headquarters. Critics called it a taxpayer-funded junket and vacation. Haley's husband, who also attended, months later reimbursed the state $1,440 for his costs.
Commerce spent $134,000 for trips to London and Tokyo last year — $97,000 for an international air show in London and $36,880 on a trade meeting in Japan. Haley attended both shows. Officials said Michael Haley, a National Guard captain currently on deployment in Afghanistan, paid his own way to Tokyo and did not travel to London.
Godfrey said Haley couldn't make it to Paris this year but did not specify her plans next week.
"The governor tries to limit the amount of time she's away from the state, so, on Commerce's recommendation, she's not attending the Paris Air Show and, instead, attending an automotive show later in the year," he said.