U.S. Army leaders gave Austin “a slight edge” over Raleigh in both the size of its tech sector and the growth of its tech labor force when they sat down in July to decide where to put their new weapons-development headquarters, North Carolina’s lead recruiter for the project says.
Austin won out in the competition to host Army Futures Command, but “it was clear from the analysis that this was a very close call,” said Stuart Ruffin, executive director of the N.C. Military Foundation.
Ruffin was summarizing the results of a “debrief with the Army” that included participation from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Gov. Roy Cooper. He did not know “with certainty” whether U.S. Sen. Richard Burr also joined the meeting, but said “all three offices participated.”
His comments came a day after N.C. Department of Commerce officials released a package of emails and other documents about the recruiting effort, in response to a Public Records Law request from The News & Observer.
The package included the formal proposal recruiters sent the Army on June 28 in hopes of convincing it to set up the new headquarters on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus.
Officials had previously confirmed the offer included three years of rent-free space at Centennial Campus as an incentive.
The actual proposal, sent out with cover letters from Cooper and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, said Cooper’s administration and state legislators had “agreed to commit up to $10.4 million to facilitate the temporary use” of three buildings for up to three years.
That “would allow [Army Futures] to make arrangements for its permanent location, either in the spaces initially occupied or in another facility on Centennial Campus” that a private developer could build for it, the June 28 proposal said.
N.C. State figured to put the Army in the Poulton Center, the Partners I building and the Research IV buildings. The Poulton Center would have housed the “advance team” for the new headquarters, one floor down from secure offices used by the Laboratory for Analytic Sciences, a National Security Agency project.
But the Research IV building would have housed the bulk of the headquarters staff as the Army ramped up operations. Army officials told U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s office on May 29 they ultimately expected to assign “about 100 soldiers and 400 [U.S.] Department of Defense civilians” to work there.
There were several options for allotting space to the Army, the largest of which envisioned handing over 116,325 square feet in the three buildings.
Long-term, recruiters dangled the possibility of letting a private developer put up a new building for the Army on a largely vacant, 32-acre portion of the northeastern side of Centennial Campus, next door to the N.C. State’s College of Engineering.
The developer, Wexford Science + Technology, could have more than 200,000 square feet of space ready within two years of getting a commitment from the Army, they said, adding that Wexford’s general contractor has “extensive experience” at Camp Lejeune and elsewhere in building offices that can handle classified information.
An “addendum” to the proposal, submitted on July 3, termed the $10.4 million offer an estimate that “will necessarily change based upon a number of factors, including the final amount of square footage needed and” the amount of renovation the existing buildings on Centennial Campus would need to meet the Army’s requirements.
The number “is not explicitly named (or limited) by existing legislation” and recruiters “are eager to explore all available options to ensure that Army Futures Command has the headquarters it needs to be successful,” the addendum said, hinting that officials would be willing to sweeten the offer further.
The addendum included an estimate that the Army would get about $15 million in value for the state’s investment of $10.4 million.
A PowerPoint assembled for a June 1 meeting with Army site-searchers indicated that along with Centennial Campus and an RTP office complex called The Frontier, officials were also suggesting the service look at the N.C. National Guard Joint Force Headquarters on Gold Star Drive in Raleigh.
The meeting gave the site-search term a chance to hear from Cooper, administrators from N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, and a group of industry representatives that included people from Red Hat, SAS and American Underground.
The June 28 proposal said state, local and university officials were willing to help Army Futures Command get in touch with area businesses and inventors, arrange university faculty and staff “rotational assignments” to the headquarters and allow Futures Command access to “university owned prototyping facilities, programs and maker spaces.”
There was bipartisan elected-official involvement throughout the process, including discussion in late May about the possible need for state legislation to support an incentives offer.
Emails said that would involve Tillis, N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, and state Rep. John Szoka, a Republican from Cumberland County. In the event, “nothing was passed,” Ruffin said.
In Austin, the Army’s moving into a downtown building that belongs to the University of Texas system. The Austin-American Stateman reported on Aug. 10 that the Army will use it rent-free until the end of 2019. After that it will pay rent, under terms to be negotiated. It expects to take up space on two floors.
Austin and Raleigh were two of a group of finalists that also included Boston, Philadelphia and Minneapolis.
Among this area’s recruiters, “the entire team was confident in the merit of our argument” but for the most part had only been cautiously optimistic about the chances of landing the project, Ruffin said.
“From day one, we knew that the Research Triangle, Austin and Boston would be good locations” for the headquarters, he said. “We remain convinced that the Research Triangle was the best answer, but there is not a ‘bad choice’ among that group.”