PTI ‘on steroids’: NC nears major deal to bring airplane manufacturer to Piedmont Triad International Airport, state senator says

Piedmont Triad News

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – An airplane manufacturer appears likely to bring hundreds of jobs to Piedmont Triad International Airport, a legislator involved in the project said Tuesday.

“I think it’s about 70% chance – closer to 80% – that it’s going our way,” state Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) told WGHP. “But it’s not a done deal. I don’t want to jinx it.”

The project became public Monday night when the General Assembly appropriated $106.75 million in a Job Development Investment Grant for “a high-yield project for an airplane manufacturer in Guilford County.”

The bill didn’t specify how many jobs might be associated with the project, but Garrett said he was told by the NC Department of Commerce that this is “a high yield project, which requires at least 1,700 jobs and $500 million in capital investments.” The bill did state that the average wages would be $60,000.

No one contacted by WGHP would identify the company involved or specify when the deal might happen, although Garrett speculated it could be a matter of weeks.

Garrett and his fellow state Sen. Gladys Robinson (R-Greensboro) both touted the impact of the project on a region that also appears on the verge of landing a new battery plant operated by Toyota and Panasonic at the Greensboro Randolph Megasite near Liberty.

“It [the airport deal] would be significant for Guilford County and surrounding counties,” Robinson said.

“It would be transformative for the area,” Garrett said.

State Sen. Donnie Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced the measure on the floor and dubbed the plan as “Project Thunderbird,” state House Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said. Robinson said that was the “code name” for the project and didn’t really relate to anything specific.

Not related to the megasite

State Rep. and House Majority Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) said in an email that this development package is not related to the similar development plan the legislature approved for the megasite.

“The economic incentive for the airport is designed to prepare PTI for a large project if an investor chooses to locate there. It is unrelated to the megasite,” he said. 

Both Bloomberg News and Automotive News have reported that Toyota has selected North Carolina, which was runner-up for the Toyota-Mazda manufacturing plant in 2018, and the state has budgeted incentives to help lure 1,750 jobs.

Commerce secretary toured site

The airport has been developing about 1,000 acres on the northeast side of Interstate 73 and building a taxiway across that highway to connect to an existing runway. The legislature’s appropriation directs $15 million for site work at the airport, $35 million for roadwork through the NC Department of Transportation and $56.75 million for the airport to use “for the construction of one or more new hangars.”

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners also scheduled a work session for 5 p.m. Thursday when there would be a closed session to consider “expansion of an industry into the area or an economic development incentive.”

Garrett and Robinson said they toured the site with NC Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, driving and walking around the land where much dirt has been moved. He said Sanders and Gov. Roy Cooper have “leaned in on this project.”

“I wanted to make sure that local leaders and state delegates are working well together. We’ve spent a lot of time with the secretary and the governor,” he said.

David Rhoades, spokesperson for Sanders’ office, repeated a mantra he had shared when asked about the megasite deal that “we don’t discuss those conversations until such time as the company makes a public announcement about their site decision.

“Aerospace remains an important industry of focus for the state, with many of the sector’s top companies already doing business here and demonstrating North Carolina has the ‘right stuff’ to help any aviation or aerospace company succeed in our state.”

PTI ‘on steroids’

The Piedmont Triad Airport Authority issued a statement that says it can’t discuss specifics about ongoing projects but that interest in the airport has been high.

“We can say that for many decades, PTI has been home to important aerospace employers like Honda, FedEx, HAECO and Cessna. Over the last 10 years, the Authority has focused on preparing nearly 1,000 acres to be ready for continued growth in the aerospace industry,” the statement said.

“This land, combined with one of the best surface transportation networks in the country, outstanding utility infrastructure and a long-established talent pipeline, make the airport one of
the best locations in the world for the aerospace industry.

“The airport has attracted the interest of a number of aerospace companies, which the local economic development community is actively pursuing. The Authority greatly appreciates the
strong support it has received from the state Legislature and the Governor’s office, and others, to attract aerospace jobs to the state and region.”

Said Garrett, “PTI long has been an economic growth driver. This will put them on steroids.”

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