Charlotte joins multistate competition for Boeing plant

efrazier@charlotteobserver.com elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comDecember 9, 2013 

Charlotte and possibly other areas in the state are considering joining the multistate competition for Boeing’s 777X jetliner plant, a much sought-after economic development project that could create up to 8,500 manufacturing and support jobs.

Although Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the surrounding area appear to meet all of Boeing’s criteria for the new plant, other North Carolina sites near major airports could also fit the bill.

Prominent among them is the Global TransPark in Kinston, 90 miles southeast of Raleigh. The industrial shipping complex has an 11,500-foot runway for cargo planes, a rail spur, available manufacturing facilities and undeveloped land. All of those are qualities Boeing wants, which Charlotte also has.

Rudy Lupton, the TransPark’s executive director, referred questions about the Boeing plant to the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“They’re kind of managing the process from North Carolina for all the sites putting together bids,” he said.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker didn’t return a call from the Charlotte Observer seeking comment.

The president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance declined to comment on whether his area is vying to bring the project to the Piedmont Triad International Airport. But the GEDA sent officials to a National Business Aviation Association convention in October “with the primary goal of recruiting aviation industry companies to the Triad.”

Chicago-based Boeing said more than a dozen locations have been invited to submit bids, but has declined to confirm or deny any specific locations. The company has given competing locations a Tuesday deadline to submit their proposals.

Even if North Carolina submits a bid, some industry insiders question whether the state has the political will to offer the huge incentive package that will probably be required.

Mark Sweeney, a senior principal with McCallum Sweeney Consulting in Greenville, S.C., said he worked with Boeing officials as they determined where to build their first 787 Dreamliner. They settled in 2003 on the firm’s existing Everett, Wash., plant.

Sweeney, a former official in the S.C. Department of Commerce, wondered whether North Carolina officials would be willing to put up the kind of incentive package it would take to win the 777X plant, which could bring more than 8,000 jobs.

South Carolina put up $570 million in economic incentives to bring a Boeing 787 plant to North Charleston in 2009.

Missouri, one of about a dozen cities and states to which Boeing has sent requests for proposals, convened a special legislative session to approve an incentive package valued at up to $1.7 billion over more than two decades.

“North Carolina has a reputation as being a good state to do business in, with an improved and good set of tools in the incentives toolbox,” Sweeney said. “But there’s some uncertainty associated with the commitment of state leadership in being aggressive in using those tools.”

Boeing is asking for a generous incentives package. According to documents obtained by the Observer, Boeing is seeking a 300- to 400-acre site. The company wants the land and facilities at little to no cost, along with infrastructure improvements paid for by the state or local governments, tax breaks and accelerated permitting.

The company needs a site next to an airport with rail and highway access.

In return, the winning state could see up to 8,500 manufacturing and support jobs. Boeing is considering three different scenarios for factories. In the smallest one, the Boeing factory builds only the plane’s wings. In the largest scenario, the factory would manufacture the whole jet.

Boeing expects to make a decision on where it will locate production work early next year.

Staff writer Rick Rothacker and the Associated Press contributed.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; Twitter: @ericfraz

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