Honda Seeks $1.2 Million to Build Jet in Greensboro

Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport, home to Honda's corporate office, is competing with other sites in North Carolina, as well as sites in two other states, for the 300-man assembly plant.

Honda Aircraft Co. wants more than $1 million of taxpayer money to build small jets at Piedmont Triad International Airport, Guilford County commissioners said Friday.

The new company is seeking a total of $1.2 million in economic incentives from the county and the city of Greensboro, as well as $100,000 from the city of High Point and $100,000 from a group in Winston-Salem, commissioners said. Honda would employ 300 people at an average $72,000-a-year salary, commissioners said.

The company, whose corporate offices are based at Piedmont Triad International Airport, has not begun assembling its HondaJet, which is expected to begin delivery in 2010.

The HondaJet, which still needs federal approval, features a radical design with engines mounted above the wings and will be sold in the "very light jet" market. It would seat about six people and sell for about $3.65 million. The company estimates sales of 70 jets a year.

"Honda has identified the Greensboro, N.C., area as one of several locations in the United States being evaluated as a potential site for expanded operations of the Honda aircraft company," Jeffrey Smith, the assistant vice president for corporate affairs for Honda in the United States, said Friday. "While the process continues, it is our standard practice not to publicly discuss any details."

Analysts say Honda's first aircraft could open a big market but could be a great embarrassment if it fails to meet Honda's expectations.

Honda has inspected several 70- to 100-acre sites at PTI for a possible assembly site, said Ted Johnson, the airport's executive director.

Johnson and the commissioners said Greensboro is competing with other sites in North Carolina, as well as sites in two other states. Indiana could hold one of those sites, the Indiana Economic Digest reported in October.

Honda wants to start on the project in the spring, Johnson said, but Smith declined to say when the company would choose a location . Beyond that, Johnson said, Honda hasn't given specifics about what it would do on the site.

Would the airport donate land to Honda if it could seal the deal? Not likely, said Henry Isaacson, the chairman of the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority.

"We're not giving away any land," he said. "We haven't to FedEx or Timco or Cessna," other companies with major operations at the airport. "That would not be part of it."

Honda would most likely lease its land, Johnson said, because the airport prefers to keep its holdings intact.

Local officials were comparing the project to Dell, the computer giant that seduced local officials into offering record incentives packages before settling in Winston-Salem with local incentives worth $37 million.

Some Guilford commissioners suggested that this project surpasses Dell because the taxpayers' investment is so much smaller and the potential economic impact could be so much greater.

"Dell just assembles computers," said Democratic commissioner Kirk Perkins. "HondaJet would design and put together jets."

The Dell project was driven by $242 million in state incentives. The state Department of Commerce declined Friday to discuss Honda, saying it has a policy of not discussing whether deals are in the works for any company. Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance, also declined to comment.

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