A closer look at TransPark deal

With much fanfare, state leaders in May announced that Spirit AeroSystems would create 1,031 jobs within six years at the Global TransPark in Kinston.

But volumes of records released by the Department of Commerce, at the request of The News & Observer and other media, suggest that the expected job benefits could take longer to attain and might not be as big as promised.

An incentives agreement that Spirit signed with the Global TransPark shows it has to create only 500 jobs by 2014 to avoid penalty. That means that the company could create half as many jobs within the time period that state leaders touted in May and still receive most of its financial concessions.

Spirit, which makes aircraft components for Airbus, Boeing and other manufacturers, is expected to create 1,000 jobs by 2016, according to its terms with the Global TransPark.

The disparity in the job creation schedules reflects the diversity of the entities involved. The Spirit deal, which included incentives that could top $180 million, came together over 15 months and involved the Commerce Department, Global TransPark Authority, Golden LEAF Foundation and other state and local agencies.

“This is definitely a very complicated set of agreements, because there are many different objectives to be accomplished,” Commerce Secretary Jim Fain said. But taken as a whole, he said, the agreements should provide more protection for the state and ensure new jobs and investment.

When announced, the Spirit expansion was billed as a boon for the Eastern North Carolina economy and Global TransPark, which for years has been the butt of jokes and the subject of criticism. The legislature created the TransPark almost two decades ago to serve as a catalyst for the rural region by jump-starting the aviation industry there.

Global TransPark, which by one analysis was expected to generate 55,000 jobs by 1998, has not lived up to expectations. Recruiters had sought a major employer to give life to the business park, so when a consultant for Spirit came to the state in December 2006, officials jumped at the chance.

“The state package would have to be enormous,” consultant Mike Mullis wrote in e-mail to Fain in February 2007. “But here is that one huge possible opportunity that NC has been awaiting.”

That same month, Fain went to the Golden LEAF Foundation, which oversees public funds stemming from a national settlement with cigarette makers, and asked that it commit $100 million, its largest grant. The foundation conceded, agreeing to give the money to the Global TransPark Authority to fund initial construction at the site.

The state will own the buildings, and Spirit will lease them for $100 a year.

In exchange, Spirit is supposed to invest $100 million of its own money in additional buildings that the state also will own. LEAF asks for muscle Golden LEAF wanted penalties in place to punish Spirit if it failed to invest the money or create jobs.

That required a timeline for job creation.

As it happened, the timeline that Golden LEAF created was different than that required under a separate incentive awarded to Spirit. A committee managed by the Commerce Department awarded Spirit $20.2 million through the Job Development Investment Grant Program.

That agreement required Spirit to create 1,031 jobs by the end of 2014.

Gov. Mike Easley used that number when he announced the Spirit expansion.

Those involved in the negotiations said that despite the different job-creation schedules, they worked together on the agreements. And they said that combined penalties are stronger.

For example, if Spirit doesn't meet the terms of the Job Development Investment Grant, it could forgo future payments, but won't necessarily have to pay back money it has already gotten. That's at the discretion of the committee that oversees the program.

If Spirit fails to meet the terms of the agreement with the TransPark, it has to pay more out of pocket. For instance, if it creates 400 jobs by the end of 2014, not the minimum 500 expected, it would owe $10 million.

If the company decided to abandon North Carolina altogether, it would owe a far larger penalty.

Golden LEAF, Commerce and the Global TransPark Authority tried to put together inducements and fines that “works in a more robust way” than any one agreement, said David Kyger, the lawyer who represented Golden LEAF in the negotiations.

But the discussion may be moot.

“My perception,” Kyger added, is that the company was “conservative on these targets. If things go as they expect, they will wildly exceed the targets in place here and that would be good news for us all.”