N.C. Recruiters Target More Aviation Jobs

With an eye on Rolls-Royce and others, state lawmakers are consider a bill that would refund sales and use taxes to companies that make planes or plane parts in North Carolina.


North Carolina is trying to live up to its tag line: First in flight.

Recruiters are stepping up efforts to attract plane builders, engine makers and parts manufacturers to the state that claims the birthplace of aviation. Their goal is to win industry jobs that pay double the average weekly wage in North Carolina.

In the past two months, Gov. Mike Easley has announced 483 new positions in the aviation industry. Honda Aircraft Co. in February said that it will build a jet plant in Greensboro, and Smiths Aerospace this month said it will expand in Asheville.

More could be on the way. Rolls-Royce, one of the world's largest jet-engine makers, is considering North Carolina for a facility as it expands several lines. A senior lawmaker this week introduced a bill that would make the state more attractive to aviation companies, suggesting others could be eyeing expansion.

"It doesn't surprise me," said Stan Younger, director of service facilities for aircraft manufacturer Cessna. "It just took a little time for more people to find out what we already knew."

Cessna opened a Greensboro service center for its Citation line in 1994. It has grown into one of the company's busiest, employing 100 and handling about 50 planes a week.

On Thursday, the smell of oil and fuel hung in the air in a sprawling hangar where a dozen jets were being repaired. Technicians pulled panels, revealing nests of wires and stacks of gear that controlled everything from wing flaps to communications.

A nearly three-decade-old Citation 500 had its guts exposed for a routine inspection, the interior stacked neatly on three shelves.

"The cost to do business in North Carolina, I don't want to say it's cheap, but in relative comparison ... you can't beat it," said Younger, who works out of Cessna headquarters in Wichita, Kan. "Greensboro may have been the best-kept secret on the East Coast."

The Triad -- the urban region about 80 miles west of the Triangle -- has developed a core of aviation companies that state and local officials hope will draw more.

In addition to Cessna and Honda, B/E Aerospace makes aircraft seats and interiors in Winston-Salem; Timco Aviation Services repairs jetliners in Greensboro; and Antilles Seaplanes is preparing to build water-landing airplanes in Gibsonville, just east of Greensboro.

Dan Lynch, who recruits businesses to Guilford County, sees the aerospace industry as one solution to the troubles that have plagued the area.

"We think there are a lot of applicable skills coming out of textiles and furniture," said Lynch, who is president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance. He cut short a trip to Pinehurst last week to meet an aviation-industry prospect, which he declined to identify.

"A lot of the same aptitude and dexterity that goes with traditional manufacturing also would be represented" in aviation, Lynch said.

Many of the positions are appealing. Last year, 3,038 North Carolina workers were employed in aerospace manufacturing, according to figures from the state Employment Security Commission. They made, on average, $1,494 a week. The average weekly wage in the state was $696.

It's just those types of statistics that make aviation companies hard to land. Other states are competing aggressively to attract them, too. South Carolina, for instance, has a slick marketing brochure targeting the companies.

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