North Carolina’s aerospace and aviation industry is flying high as it attracts high-caliber companies and creates well-paying jobs.
During the past 20 years, North Carolina has transitioned from a traditional economy based on tobacco, furniture, and textiles to a global economy that is driven by knowledge-based enterprises including advanced manufacturing, software and information technology, bio-pharmaceuticals, and financial services.
This shift also has seen North Carolina burgeoning as an innovative center for aerospace and aviation. Currently, the state has more than 160 aerospace and aviation companies, employing more than 13,000 workers. Seven of the 10 largest global air defense companies, such as Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon, have operations in the state. With the fourth largest military presence in the nation, the defense-related industry plays a significant economic role by providing ample development opportunities through government contracting.
At the heart of this growth lies North Carolina’s Global TransPark, established in the 1990s as a manufacturing center but reconfigured in 2005 as a home for aerospace and military technology firms. The TransPark now consists of a 2,400-acre industrial/airport site situated in the heartland of eastern North Carolina in Kinston, with 5,775 acres environmentally permitted for shovel-ready sites. The park is located near most of the state’s major military bases and offers convenient access to major ports, interstate highways, and rail connections. The site includes a lengthy runway that can handle large aircraft and several thousand acres of land where buildings can be constructed quickly.
The TransPark is helping to create well-paying positions for skilled workers and, in recent months, has attracted several new aerospace companies Such as Spirit AeroSystems and Commerce Overseas Corporation (COC).
Spirit AeroSystems, a worldwide independent supplier of aerostructures, announced in May 2008 that it would build a plant at the park. Spirit’s new operation at the TransPark represents a $570-million investment and will create 1,000 jobs, making it the largest single employer at the TransPark and one of the largest employers in Lenoir County.
Spirit considered several other locations in the United States and around the world before choosing North Carolina. “We had a detailed set of requirements, and North Carolina is the location that best met our needs,” says Ken Evans, corporate communications manager for Spirit AeroSystems, Inc. “We needed access to a runway and port, a strong labor market, excellent technical training, a solid incentive package, aerospace industry knowledge, and a state government team that really wanted to work with us. The team in North Carolina has been excellent to work with and it really helped finalize our decision.”
Expected to commence operations at the new plant in mid-2010, Spirit will initially handle work arising from a new Spirit contract with Airbus. Components for the Airbus 350 XWB, an extra wide body passenger jet, will be the first products built at the Kinston plant.
COC, a smaller aerospace company that manufactures and supplies military aviation parts, moved its headquarters from California to the TransPark in 2007. This investment will exceed $4.3 million and create 72 new jobs.
Established in 1967, COC manufactures and supplies aerospace parts for U.S. military aircraft operating in more than 50 countries. COC’s relocation is funded by the Global TransPark Foundation, Lenoir County, the Neuse River Development Authority’s Defense Ventures Fund, USDA’s Intermediary Re-Lending Program, and the Governor’s Office, which will back the enterprise with $75,000 from the North Carolina One Fund.
“Not only will COC create jobs for our region, but they are good-paying, skilled positions that can further build the economic viability of Lenoir County, eastern North Carolina, and the State of North Carolina. The jobs offer additional opportunities for our workforce and help to strengthen our ability to attract similar companies,” says Mark Pope, executive director of Lenoir County’s Economic Development Department.