Computer giant Apple is actively considering locating some of its operations in Research Triangle Park.
Apple CEO Tim Cook met with Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday afternoon to discuss the implications of the project, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.
Apple representatives also are meeting with the staffs of the state Senate and House leaders to discuss what financial incentives could be available, the source said.
It isn't known whether the company is considering establishing its fourth campus in RTP or something smaller. But the fact that enhanced incentives are involved suggests a larger project.
Apple announced in January it would be looking for a site to establish another campus, which will bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments wherever it lands.
An Apple spokesman on Wednesday said the company had no comment on the developments.
Last month at a business expansion event in Durham, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr told reporters the state was in the running. “Apple is serious about looking at North Carolina,” Burr said.
Apple’s interest in the Triangle burnishes an image that politicians and economic developers have been promoting: that North Carolina is a business-friendly state that is willing to spend big on financial incentives.
Apple’s discussions with legislative leaders are focused on the state’s financial incentives programs. The Job Development Investment Grant allows companies to take a tax credit against employee withholding taxes.
Negotiations could entail raising the tax credit cap and lowering the threshold to qualify for the grant. Last year the General Assembly included in the state budget a provision aimed at attracting the biggest of projects, known as “transformative.”
JDIG grants are based on the location of a project, the number of new jobs created, how much employees are paid in comparison to the county wage average, the level of investment and whether the industry is especially sought-after in North Carolina. Transformative projects could receive full refunds on their tax bills.
Transformative projects also can receive up to $50 million for infrastructure such as water, sewer and rail access, with the money coming from a reserve account in the state’s general fund. In addition, the One North Carolina Fund can award up to $5,000 per year, per job, for up to five years.
The required $4 billion investment and 5,000 new jobs for transformative projects are aimed at massive enterprises such as automotive manufacturing plants, but that might be too high a bar for a computer technology company, which doesn't require as much space or equipment.
A change in that program would require action by the legislature, which launched its short session on Wednesday. The short session is supposed to focus on changes to the state budget.
The state also has an intermediate program that increases grant fund disbursements for up to 20 years for any company that creates 1,750 jobs and invests $500 million.
State officials say JDIG projects result in a net gain in taxes going to the state, even with the tax reimbursement.
Opposition to taxpayer-funded financial incentives for industry comes from the political right and left. Earlier this year a national organization for conservative millennials launched a digital ad campaign opposing incentives for Amazon's second headquarters, calling it "corporate welfare."
Amazon also looking
The precise location, size, jobs or costs of the potential Apple center are not yet publicly known and may not have been finalized.
The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that Apple has been exploring the possibility of placing a campus for 20,000 employees in 4 million square feet of office space in Northern Virginia, citing unnamed sources.
California-based Apple announced in January that it would build a fourth campus as part of an expansion that would add more than 20,000 employees in the U.S. over five years. At the time, the company said the jobs would be spread across its current locations as well as at the new one.
Apple has also said it plans more than $30 billion in capital expenditures in the United States over the next five years. More than $10 million of that will go to data centers. Over the past 10 years, Apple has invested billions of dollars in data centers and other facilities in seven states, including North Carolina.
All of the tech firm's offices, stores and data centers are solar, wind and hydro powered from local projects.
Apple's search for a new campus has paralleled Amazon's search for a second headquarters, but in markedly different ways. Unlike Amazon, Apple has not orchestrated a public competition among regions, publicized what technical and sociological specifications it will demand, nor announced a short list of cities still in the running.
Amazon expects to invest $5 billion and eventually create 50,000 new, high-paying jobs.
Amazon launched its public competition last year, and announced a short list in January. The Triangle was among the 20 cities still in the running, and was the only North Carolina region to make the cut.
About that time, Apple announced its expansion with a search for a site for a fourth campus.
The Triangle quickly became a focal point of the "where-will-they-go" speculation. Anticipation of an announcement cranked up over the past week following Cook’s commencement address at Duke University, his alma mater, on Sunday.
Cook is also a member of Duke’s Board of Trustees. His chief operating officer, Jeff Williams, graduated from Sanderson High School and N.C. State University and then obtained an MBA degree from Duke.
Vacant land in RTP
There was speculation that the Parmer Innovation Centers property in RTP could offer both what Amazon is looking for in its second headquarters and what Apple wants for a fourth campus. But Apple is not locating there, the source said.
Parmer bought the 20 buildings there from GlaxoSmithKline last year and embarked on extensive renovations while actively seeking tenants.
Research Triangle Park straddles Wake and Durham counties. Apple's focus is on sites on the Wake County side, according to a different source with direct knowledge of the search. The largest parcels of undeveloped land in RTP are in Wake County.
The Research Triangle Foundation, the nonprofit entity that manages Research Triangle Park, declined to comment on the prospects of Apple moving into the park.
The foundation has five undeveloped parcels of land on the Wake County side that are available, clustered near the area where Davis Drive crosses I-540, according to RTF's website.
Apple employs 84,000 people with some in every state. Apple has said it plans to step up its support of training programs for computer coding and focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
In North Carolina it employs about 50 people at a data center in Catawba County near Charlotte, where it has invested more than $1 billion.
To land that facility, the state approved about $3 million in annual tax breaks for the company. Apple received another $7.3 million in incentives from the town of Maiden and Catawba County.