Honda jet engine plant will bring 70 new jobs

BURLINGTON - The Triad took another step toward becoming an aviation hub Tuesday, as Honda announced plans to bring a jet engine plant here and create 70 jobs.

Honda Aero, a subsidiary of Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co., will begin producing engines in late 2010 near the Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport.

The company aims to build 200 engines a year for lighter, more efficient jets, including the HondaJet, which will be manufactured in Greensboro by the Honda Aircraft Co., another subsidiary. Honda developed the engines through a joint venture with GE Aviation.

"We want to build a new engine of the highest quality ... that you can be proud to say is made in your hometown," said Fumitaka Hasegawa, Honda Aero's president and chief executive officer, at a news conference.

The state offered incentives worth as much as $1.76 million over 12 years to lure Honda Aero here from its headquarters in Reston, Va., and secure the company's $27 million investment in a local plant.

Honda must meet hiring and investment goals to reap the full benefits of the Job Development Investment Grant, Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday.

A group of Alamance-area banks also appealed to Honda, putting together an $11 million loan package so that the Burlington-Alamance Airport Authority could buy 120 acres near the airport to extend the runway and offer the company land.

Honda Aero will build its headquarters, a 58,400-square-foot manufacturing plant and an engine-testing cell, on about 90 acres near the runway.

Construction should be finished by next fall, said Honda spokesman David Iida.

Jobs at the engine plant will pay an average of $62,000, plus benefits - more than twice the annual average in Alamance County.

"These are newer and better jobs for people who lost their jobs to foreign trade," Easley said.

Speculation about Honda Aero's plans has been plentiful for months. In recent weeks, local developers have alluded to the engine plant as a done deal.

Before choosing Burlington, however, the company scouted other sites in North Carolina - including Greensboro.

Two Honda projects, under the code name "Big Wing," had been eyeing the area for months.

One of them - Honda Aircraft - picked Piedmont Triad International Airport in February for its $100 million headquarters and jet-production facility.

Greensboro economic developers pitched sites including a 253-acre golf course at North Regional Road and Caindale Drive for the engine plant - the second "Big Wing."

"They will be selling jet engines to other manufacturers besides Honda and wanted a few degrees of separation between the facilities," said Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance.

As potential suppliers and distributors follow Honda Aero here, though, the Gate City has a good chance of snagging them, Lynch said.

"That's from one side of town to the next," he said. "That's how most people look at it. Companies don't look at those geopolitical boundaries. ... They say we're down the interstate 15 minutes or 18 minutes or whatever it is."

He added, "Our goal is to go out and get the next one."

With the announcement of its engine plant, Honda will have three operations in the Piedmont Triad. The first phase of its HondaJet facility could open next year. The company has run an engine and lawn mower production plant in Swepsonville since 1984.

"We feel like we've established our own kind of Triad right here in the Piedmont," Hasegawa said. "The Honda Triad."

Contact Michelle Jarboe at 373-7075 or mjarboe

* The facility will start production in 2010 near the Burlington airport.