05/15/08 — 1,000 new jobs for TransPark

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1,000 new jobs for TransPark

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 15, 2008 2:19 PM

KINSTON -- After 15 years of waiting for a flagship company to arrive, vindication came Wednesday for all those involved in the building of the North Carolina Global TransPark, as Gov. Mike Easley traveled to Kinston to announce that Spirit AeroSystems Inc. will be investing more than $570 million and creating more than 1,000 new jobs over the next six years.

"The Global TransPark was built to help this region make the transition from a tobacco-dependent economy to one that attracts knowledge-based, high-tech industries," Easley said. "This has not always been popular, but today, we start to silence all the naysayers who have been heckling from the sidelines ... (and who) said the Global TransPark will never work, because today, the Global TransPark is the best thing we've got going in North Carolina."

Formed in 1991, the 5,775-acre TransPark currently has almost a dozen tenants totaling 361 employees.

Spirit will be, by far, the largest business in the park, which has been dogged by critics since it opened in 1993.

Often called a "boondoggle," some wondered if it was one the verge of bankruptcy after its 2007 audit was released in January.

Now, however, Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, is confident that support for the park will not be hard to find as he plans to work to increase its nearly $2 million annual appropriation to help make infrastructure improvements as they hope Wednesday's announcement will be the one to open the floodgates.

"As (Spirit) grows, I think you'll see other companies coming and bringing more jobs and really getting the TransPark going. This is an enormous project, and the people of Wayne, Greene, Jones and Duplin counties -- all those folks are going to work at the TransPark," he said.

Spirit, which is based in Wichita, Kansas and has five locations in the U.S. and Europe -- and one being built in Malaysia -- is the world's largest independent supplier of commercial airplane assemblies and components.

It specializes in manufacturing composites, fuselages, pylons (pieces holding the engine to the wing), nacelles (engine components) and wing structures. Among its customers are Airbus, Boeing, Gulfstream, Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft.

The company's TransPark facility will serve as a composite manufacturing Center of Excellence, with its first project being a composite fuselage structure for Airbus' new A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Body) program. It will be approximately 65 feet long, 20 feet wide and weigh nearly 6,000 pounds.

Spirit is expected to begin construction of its new manufacturing facility sometime this year, with operations scheduled to begin in 2010. It will initially employ approximately 500 people, with another 530 brought online as its five-stage construction project is completed over the next six years.

Wages for those positions will average $48,000 a year, not including benefits -- much more than the Lenoir County average of $27,000.

But Spirit didn't come without the attraction of several multi-million dollar incentives, including the largest grant ever given by the Golden LEAF Foundation -- $100 million to the GTP Authority for the construction of the initial buildings.

In turn, the company will invest another $100 million to build the rest of its manufacturing facilities -- all of which will be owned by the Authority and leased to Spirit at a nominal amount. If the company fails to meet its targeted investment and job creation numbers, though, those rents will increase.

The second grant is a Job Development Investment Grant worth up to $20.23 million over 12 years by the state's Economic Investment Committee.

According to the agreement, the N.C. Department of Commerce estimates the project will generate a cumulative gross product value of $2.94 billion and produce a cumulative net state revenue of $39.2 million.

Under the terms, for each year the company meets its performance targets, the state will provide a grant equal to 75 percent of the state personal income tax withholdings derived from the new jobs, all of which must be sustained for all 12 years.

Finally, the third piece of the incentive package is a $5 million grant from the state's One North Carolina Fund, which is based on job creation and prospective wages and requires a local match -- $16 million over 20 years by Lenoir County, based on the company's personal property, $500,000 in stormwater assistance by both the county and the City of Kinston, and water and sewer assistance by Kinston, though city officials could not be reached by press time to confirm a dollar figure.

But the money wasn't the only attraction, said John Lewelling, Spirit vice president and general manager of the aerostructures unit.

He also highlighted the region's workforce -- particularly the proximity of the state's military bases, especially Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point -- the training capacity of the community colleges, the proximity to runways and ports, and the cooperation of the state and local governments as the characteristics of the TransPark that stood out during their global and national search.

"North Carolina was the best site for meeting our overall set of needs," he said. "Together we're looking forward to building a fun and exciting future here, and from our viewpoint, we don't know where the end will be."

And for state and local officials, those future prospects may be even more exciting than the announcement itself.

"If we're smart and continue to improve our workforce and continue to have the best business climate in America, I'm telling you, today is only the tip of the iceberg," Easley said. "Today North Carolina becomes an aerospace center, not just in the nation, but in the world."

And it does so, he added, more than 100 years after the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk -- and five years after Boeing turned the TransPark down in favor of Everett, Wash.

But that, Easley said, was when the groundwork for this -- an announcement that was 18 months in the making and was finalized only minutes before Wednesday's ceremony -- was laid.

"(Boeing) said 'You have passed the test. This site will work for a major aerospace corporation,'" he said. "Now Spirit is here to grow and they are here to prosper."

But, state Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, noted, it couldn't have happened without all the state and local entities pulling together.

"This is a tremendous thing. We had a lot of people oppose (the TransPark), but this could be the greatest thing for eastern North Carolina," he said. "A whole lot of people came together on this. You don't have anything this big without the whole body working together. We've all done our little share.

"This will put us on the map and it will let our best and brightest stay here."