Incentives Soar in Bid for HondaJet Plant

Governments in the Triad region are poised this week to approve $1.3 million in incentives and South Carolina could offer additional enticements.

Honda is nearing a decision on a place to make its first jet, and Triad officials are fighting aggressively to win the plant.

Governments in the region -- about 80 miles west of the Triangle -- are poised this week to approve $1.3 million in incentives to attract the Japanese automaker. The state could offer additional enticements to aid the effort.

Honda already has its headquarters for the airplane venture in Greensboro. Now it's considering Piedmont Triad International Airport for the factory. The project could bring $100 million in investment and create as many as 300 jobs, with average salaries topping $76,000 a year.

"I think it's probably the most important economic development issue that we've dealt with since FedEx" agreed to open a hub in 1998, said Mitchell Johnson, Greensboro's city manager. "The city and the county are ... going to try to put their best foot forward."

The Greensboro City Council this evening will consider a five-year grant to the company worth as much as $600,000. The High Point City Council will consider a five-year, $100,000 grant Thursday morning, and the Guilford County commissioners will consider a three-year, $600,000 incentive Thursday evening.

A spokeswoman for the state Commerce Department declined to say whether the state is considering any incentives. But based on the amount of investment and number of jobs, Honda could easily qualify for more than $1 million in grants from state-run programs.

The Triad has been among the hardest-hit regions in the state as textiles, furniture and other manufacturing declined. Leaders have sought to stoke the economic engine with new industries and marquee companies.

Dell is perhaps the most visible example of that effort. The computer maker in 2005 opened a factory in Winston-Salem, west of Greensboro, after state and local governments promised $280 million in tax breaks and other financial assistance.

Greensboro and Guilford County officials want the Honda factory, should it come, to do more than boost employment. They expect it to draw more development.

"Any internationally known company doing a major, exciting product draws attention," said Loren Hill, president of the High Point Economic Development Commission.

Honda officials confirmed that they are considering Greensboro, but, in a statement, said that it is one of several locations under review. Company officials did not elaborate and said that while the process continues, "it is our standard practice not to publicly discuss any details."

The plane that the company plans to make is part of a new class of lighter, more efficient jets priced as low as $1 million. Several established plane makers, including Cessna and Embraer, are getting into the market. And entrepreneurs have plans for air taxi and other services.

Some analysts say that the potential is overhyped.

It's "arguably the most overblown manufacturing market in decades," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with aviation research firm Teal Group in Fairfax, Va. "It's a dot-com with wings."

Even so, there is demand for Honda's product. It began selling the plane, which has a typical configuration for five passengers, on Oct. 17 and within three days had more than 100 orders. Companies are seen as likely buyers, as are groups of people who want to split costs and flying time.

It's unclear exactly how Honda sees its future in the plane business, Aboulafia said.

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