The Department of Commerce is working with the National Aerospace Development Center, a non-profit group that helps advance the aviation industry. It won a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to partner with a handful of states to better equip their work forces for aviation careers. A UNC-Chapel Hill professor, as part of a separate initiative, is helping the state identify its strengths and weaknesses in attracting aerospace employers.
State colleges and universities also are involved. In 2005, the Golden LEAF Foundation, which oversees about $600 million in public funds, awarded $9.3 million in grants, mostly to schools, to help create the N.C. Aerospace Alliance and improve training.
N.C. State University was the biggest beneficiary and has become a recruitment tool for developers. Materials science and engineering professors and students have been working with mechanics at the Cherry Point military base to fix recurring problems with helicopters so that they fly more often. That sparked innovation and caught the industry's attention.
"Folks are going to be attracted to the capabilities that we can provide to the community," said Jerry Cuomo, one of the professors leading the effort.
The Commerce Department is not relying on workforce and infrastructure development alone. It also is trying to make the state more financially attractive.
At the behest of the Commerce Department, Sen. David Hoyle, a Gaston County Democrat, this week introduced legislation that would refund sales and use taxes to companies that make planes or plane parts. "Commerce must have some bait in the water," Hoyle said. "I'm told that there is possibly an opportunity for some major components, major jumbo-airplane parts manufacturing."
Hoyle said he didn't know which company was involved. Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, who said he is spending more time on aviation projects, wouldn't comment on any active efforts.
Some companies, though, aren't shy about their ambitions. General Electric makes large jet engines in Durham and plans to add about 40 workers this year to its 270-person staff.
DRS Technologies, which overhauls C-130 cargo planes for the Coast Guard in Elizabeth City and employs 200, wants to "continue the march into North Carolina," said Mitchell Rambler, president of DRS Technical Services. Elizabeth City hopes to use DRS's presence to attract other employers. It recently won a $3.5 million state grant to expand its airport.
AVIATION COMPANIES IN NORTH CAROLINA
North Carolina already has aviation companies across the state. Here are four of the larger ones.
- Goodrich. The Charlotte-based company sells products and services to aircraft and engine makers, airlines and the military. It employs more than 22,000 people worldwide.
- Timco Aviation Services. At its Greensboro facility, the company services and overhauls airliners. It employs about 1,700 at that facility.
- General Electric. The company manufactures large jet engines in Durham, where it employs about 270. It also has an operation in Wilmington.
- DRS Technologies. At its Elizabeth City facility, the company overhauls C-130 transports for the Coast Guard. It employs about 200 workers there.
(THE COMPANIES, GREENSBORO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ALLIANCE)