County targeting aviation business
By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 30, 2009 1:46 PM
Wayne County and eastern North Carolina are poised to benefit from anticipated growth in the aviation and defense industries, but only if its workers are qualified.
Encouraging and supporting those educational efforts will be one of the primary goals of the North Carolina's Eastern Region (NCER) Defense-Aerospace Advisory Committee, said county Commissioner Andy Anderson and Development Alliance president Joanna Helms.
Anderson and Vince Misciagna, vice president and general manager for AAR Cargo Systems, serve on the committee. Ms. Helms is a member of the committee's support staff.
Currently, the defense/aerospace industry consists of about a dozen or so companies employing more than 5,000 workers with expectations for growth of about 20 percent during the next five years.
"The governor sees what is happening out here, and she is pushing this as much as she can," Anderson said. "We have been pushing two things: One is aerospace and air defense and the other is biotechnology. The biotechnology is growing in the eastern region, but not to the degree that aviation is.
"They call it a committee, but it also is a kind of think tank to look at ideas at how we can get more aviation industry into eastern North Carolina. It is a team effort to get this all done. We are sharing information. There are no secrets."
Any secrets would be part of the normal course of business where industrial recruitment is concerned, he said.
The 17- member committee includes representatives of industry, economic development and community colleges including former state community college system president Martin Lancaster.
"We have been talking about how can we push this aviation industry even more than what we are doing right now," Anderson said. "We are trying to encourage growth of existing industries while attracting more to the area. We are looking at direct aviation as well as those who supply aviation. In Wayne County, we are working hard to get our machine shops to get federal certification to make parts. There are shops in the county capable of making high-quality parts required for aviation."
One such company, Petra Precision Machining & Design, Inc. will be awarded two certifications this Friday.
"This is a pretty big deal," said Mike Hanley, existing industry specialist for the Development Alliance. "Petra is the first machine shop in Wayne County with this certification and may be the first in the Eastern Region. Earnest Richard is the owner and he is the only minority-owned shop that we have. They are preparing for doing business with Spirit, AAR and other aviation companies that locate in our area."
Petra received assistance from Wayne Community College and N.C. State University in securing these certifications, he said.
The business started in 2005 with three employees and has now grown to 13.
"Some might say it is a lot of work for nothing," Anderson said. "Well, you are not going to get the contracts if you don't have the certification."
Such certification is vital, Anderson said.
"But the biggest push we are pushing right now is in education because we have to have people who can do the jobs when they get down there," Anderson said. "We are working on the WORKS (Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success) program and Wayne County is kind of on the lead in that."
WORKS was established by the Wayne commissioners with the intention of improving the county's labor pool, with an eye toward students coming out of high school.
The Gold Leaf Foundation has a $5 million grant it will be passing out, and the rumor is that a large portion of that will go to North Carolina's Eastern Region for the training, Anderson said.
"Three community colleges are taking the lead -- Wayne, Craven and Lenoir," Anderson said. "If that grant comes through, it will help us a lot. There are a lot of community college courses needed for the aviation industry, plus we have the aviation schools."
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) schools are another facet, he said.
"The key is to make sure we have a program where a kid goes through high school, and if he is doing a good job, say taking an engineering course, that course will be transferable to the community college system, and that they will get credit for," Anderson said. "If we find a student who is doing well in that field, then we need to try to get them into community college early.
"Then, when they finish up, we need to try to encourage the student to attend East Carolina University. I pushed this idea that if we can get a local kid who has grown up here, who knows what the area has to offer and is used to area, they will want to stay in the area. We get them trained to stay here and not go to New York City or somewhere. We need them here to fill our jobs."
Anderson said it might sound like bragging, but people have to tell students about what they have done. As part of the new mentoring program initiated by the county, Anderson plans to talk with Goldsboro High School students.
"You have to tell them what you can do," he said. "I was a poor farm boy and I have done all of these things. I have been to the North Pole, the South Pole and around the world 50 times. I am from Edgecombe County, a tobacco and cotton farmer. You can do it and you don't have to be a brilliant man to do it. You just need some common sense and get up and go."
Anderson said the region has a "tremendous potential" for growth in aviation.
The foundation already exists, especially with Spirit AeroSystems in Kinston and AAR in Goldsboro, he said.
"It is a big business already, we just have to make it bigger," Anderson said. "We are trying to work as team. No one (person) has all of the know-how. I think we are on the right track."
Mrs. Helms agreed.
"The regional approach provides more bang for the buck," she said. "The emphasis is on education. We have to have a workforce that can be tapped into. We have to provide Wayne County citizens with the education so that they can do the work."
She noted that the support group she is a member of is made up of the economic development directors from the region's 13 counties.
"The region did not want a committee of just economic developers sitting around," she said. "What was wanted were the people who have been in the trenches. We needed people who have worked in or been involved with the industry so that we can understand what makes or breaks it for their industry."
She said the committee is a "great mix" of people who bring a lot to the table.
"There already is a strong military presence in the area," she said. "I think this is one area where we can shine above other areas of the state. We are in one of the best positions in the state to benefit from this industry."
The committee also will be involved in promoting the region as an attractive location for the defense/aerospace industry.
NCER officials said that the region has benefited from the presence of several significant defense and aerospace companies, However, the creation of the committee is largely accredited to the decision by Spirit AeroSystems to locate at the Global TransPark and the state's emphasis on the development of the region.
With the anticipated June 2010 start-up of Spirit, the world's largest supplier of commercial airplane assemblies and components, is expected to begin operation next June.
NCER is a 13-county partnership established by the General Assembly to promote economic development in Nash, Edgecombe, Wilson, Lenoir, Pitt, Wayne, Greene, Duplin, Pamlico, Jones, Onslow, Craven and Carteret counties. The region encompasses almost 7,000 square miles and approximately one million residents.