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Charlotte touts airport site for Boeing plant

By Ely Portillo and Steve Harrison
elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com

In an attempt to lure a Boeing plant to Charlotte, the city will give the company details about a site near the airport that could be used for the facility, according to two officials familiar with the talks.

The Charlotte City Council discussed the city’s bid to land the plant for a new 777X jetliner during a closed session Monday night, the officials said.

At this point in the process, the city and state haven’t offered a specific dollar amount for the incentives needed to land the plant.

The Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer is expected to pick a handful of finalists from around the country. From there, Boeing would begin financial negotiations with cities that are the strongest logistically.

The deadline for cities to submit an initial response is Tuesday.

The city discussed using a roughly 370-acre site south of Charlotte Douglas International Airport that it is in the process of buying. In the spring, council members approved buying the site, which has about 100 homes, with the intention of clearing the site and using it for future airport-related businesses. It is adjacent to a Norfolk Southern intermodal yard that is under construction and expected to be fully operational in the spring of 2014.

City officials are being tight-lipped about the plant.

“I think it would be inappropriate to comment on that,” said Brent Cagle, interim aviation director of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. “It’s an active (request for proposals) from Boeing, and the city is weighing its options, as is the airport.”

Due to a dispute with one of its unions, Chicago-based Boeing is considering building a new factory for its next-generation 777X outside the Seattle region, where the company builds most of its jets. Boeing has solicited proposals from more than a dozen states. Some have been vocal about their enthusiasm for the project.

Missouri convened a special legislative session to pass a $1.7-billion incentive package. Other states reportedly in the running include California, Kansas, Alabama and South Carolina.

The request for proposals has been circulating among Charlotte officials and was obtained last week by the Observer. According to the document, Boeing is seeking 300- to 400-acre sites next to major airports, with access to highways, a 9,000-foot runway and a rail terminal. Charlotte Douglas could fit the bill, as could other sites, such as Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport and Kinston’s Global TransPark.

“We have received an RFP from an aircraft manufacturer and we will respond,” said Piedmont Triad executive director Kevin Baker. He declined to comment further.

The factory would bring up to 8,500 jobs, the majority of them well-paying manufacturing jobs. Boeing also wants incentives and tax breaks potentially worth billions.

Former Charlotte Douglas aviation director Jerry Orr said he’s told airport officials they need to submit a proposal.

“I hope they are putting a bid together, but I don’t know,” said Orr, who is waging a legal fight to get back his job running the airport. “I told them this is big and they ought to be on it. I sent them a message. The reply I got was they’re working on it.”

After speaking at a Charlotte Chamber luncheon, Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday declined to comment to reporters on Boeing, but said the state is “getting a lot of interest in North Carolina from industry throughout the nation and throughout the world.”

Asked whether a reorganization in the state commerce department could hamper any recruitment efforts, McCrory said the state is using the reorganization as part of its sales pitch to companies.

“We are already implementing some of the customer service strategy with all the companies we are recruiting for North Carolina and Charlotte right now,” McCrory said.

Asked if North Carolina is in the running for Boeing, Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker replied: “I would tell you that North Carolina has a lot of good opportunities in front of it right now.”

Decker said the transition process isn’t hurting the state.

“In any business that’s going through organizational change, you’ve got to keep the train running while you’re making that change,” she said.

She said she expects to have a CEO named by the end of the year for the new public-private partnership. “I am confident the folks we’ve been interviewing and the candidates we have in the final round are all experienced CEOs who can come in and get to work quickly,” she said.

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeff Lacker, who also spoke at the Charlotte Chamber event, said he couldn’t comment on an individual company’s project. But he said the Fed has heard that Boeing’s North Charleston, S.C., location has been working hard to attract skilled workers.

“They have had to go out of state for some of their needs, but they have been able to satisfy some of their needs in state,” Lacker said. “I think any region that is positioning itself well to provide a good work force is going to have an advantage.”

North Carolina is “at the forefront of a lot of states in the way they’ve attempted to foster better human capital investments,” he added. Staff writers Rick Rothacker and Eric Frazier contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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