GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The hot story was revealed on a chilly day: Up under the covered drop-off zone at Piedmont Triad International Airport, officials revealed what most on hand already knew, that Boom Supersonic is going to build its first manufacturing facility on airport property.
From Gov. Roy Cooper to Boom President and Chief Business Officer Kathy Savitt to PTI Executive Director Kevin Baker to a host of elected and appointed officials, all the messages were full of warmth to the roughly 300 seated in the breezy shade. And the event even included one pretty cool surprise.
Each speaker’s glowing remarks were an hour-plus program of praise that followed a morning of meetings that required mere minutes to approve the incentives to lure Boom, a Denver-based developer of supersonic passenger jets, to the Triad.
“Boom Supersonic is going to build its dream super factory right over there,” Cooper said, pointing toward the cleared and awaiting land on the northwest horizon.
The state, Guilford County and the city of Greensboro all ponied up dollars – about $130 million, in round numbers – that are invested in a company that pledges in the next five years to hire 1,761 employees for that jet-making facility.
Those jobs would pay at least $68,000-plus annually and would reflect the Boom’s $500 million investment to build its Overture passenger jet by 2025, get it tested and certified by 2026 and begin transporting passengers by 2029, which would match its delivery date for 15 jets to United Airlines.
These jets, the next iteration of the now-retired Concorde SST, would fly at supersonic speeds and around the world, carrying 65 to 80 passengers in what speakers saw as a world-changing approach to affordable aviation. Boom also is pledging to do this with a carbon-zero approach, including non-petroleum-based fuel.
As Savitt said: “We are founded on three principles: speed, safety – obviously – and sustainability.”
This manufacturing facility would build Overtures, provide for customers and suppliers and then service those jets. Savitt and virtually all who stood in front of a microphone spoke repeatedly of the requirement for a large and talented workforce that is expected to grow to 2,400 at PTI by 2032 and also likelihood the facility would attract suppliers and other relevant contractors as an expanding economic footprint.
Future of flight
These speakers used all the phrases you would expect – a big idea that is “taking off,” a process to “land” that deal, an announcement that makes a “boom” – Forsyth County Board of Commissioners Chair David Plyler suggested celebrating with the hit tune of Guilford County resident Billy “Crash” Craddock: “Boom, Boom Baby.”
But most speakers reflected on what North Carolina has meant to the aerospace industry and what this venture perhaps could mean to its future. Several mentioned the state’s first-in-flight heritage – High Point Mayor Jay Wagner suggested a new license plate to carry “Future of Flight” – and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said this deal brings out the “I” In PTIA – “’I’ for ‘international,’ because we will be known globally, internationally for how we travel.”
She and Baker talked about the long-term plan for an “aerotropolis” – spelling uncertain – to be built around PTI. Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said the state must be “first in talent, not just first in flight.”
Brent Christenson, CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, said he had been working on luring Boom since April, but the idea that Boom might build at PTI took wing about two years ago, Savitt said, when the company set the factors it required to choose the location for its manufacturing facility.
Ticking the boxes
“We wanted a high-quality education system, a talented workforce, a supportive community and to be near a coast,” she said. “PTI was the location that ticked all the boxes.”
She explained that it was crucial that the jets were a half-hour “subsonic flight” to the coast, where the jets could fly at supersonic speeds. “We fly subsonic over land and supersonic only over water,” she said, reinforcing separately that no noise restrictions would be broken by the jet’s inevitable sonic booms.
Because of all that, Greensboro beat out what state officials said were competitive economic bids from Greenville-Spartanburg in South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida.
North Carolina officials project that the deal by 2045 would contribute more than $32 billion to the state’s economy, including about $1.3 billion in tax revenue. The factory will be on leased land at PTI, and the hangars will be built with dollars from the state’s development grant.
Almost every speaker addressed the advantages of the state’s educational system – Savitt praised it several times, and Cooper et al extolled its virtues – and there was a special announcement of a heretofore undisclosed program to help train employees of the future.
Boom in 2023 will be launching an internship/apprentice program open to any student who attends a university, college, trade school or community college in North Carolina. “We plan to have more than 200 [in the program] in the next two years,” Savitt said. “Any student who attends school … in North Carolina will be eligible to apply.”
Will it fly?
One question that kept emerging for Cooper and Savitt and even, to some extent, Baker, was whether this startup company that had neither built nor flown the jet it plans to market, actually could finish the deal and fulfill its plan.
The company has developed its XB-1 prototype jet, and its graphics and videos are impressively created to show how the Overture will look and how it will operate. But for now that’s all Boom truly is: a big idea with a big upside.
Savitt answered those questions by pointing to international partners, such as Rolls Royce, that are working on developing the sustainable engine of the future. She and Cooper noted the investments of partners such as United – which in addition to its order for 15 jets has an option on 35 more – and Japan Airlines and, more recently, the United States Air Force. “We are very confident,” Savitt said.
In the end, though, this windy day followed the theme of a similar program that had occurred just last month at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite near Liberty, where Toyota will build batteries for electric vehicles and employ more than 1,700 good-paying jobs.
That meant, Cooper said, “We are the future of clean transportation. We are going places.”