Reaching out for opportunity

Jun. 11, 2013 @ 05:54 PM

This already has been a big year for Durham’s GE Aviation aircraft engine assembly plant – and a deal in the works could make it even bigger.

In April, the plant celebrated its 20th anniversary on South Miami Boulevard. At the time, Plant Manager Mike Wagner and his employees celebrated, among other things, the growth of its production of the GEnx engine, which powers Boeing’s new Dreamliner aircraft.

Last year, the company shipped 120 GEnx engines, Wagner said. This year, he said, they want to ship 214.
“We are moving full steam ahead,” Wagner said.

The momentum would be amped up if a multi-government effort to bring significant new GE investment to North Carolina pays off. In the latest step to assemble a major incentive package to lure the company here rather than to a Midwestern site, the Durham County Board of Commissioners unanimously endorsed a $200,000 pledge to the incentives. That followed by a week the Durham City Council’s vote to offer $400,000 to the package.

Also last week, New Hanover and Ashe counties and the town of West Jefferson chipped into the incentive pot. GE Aviation has facilities in both counties. And Buncombe County and the city of Asheville have offered significant support to a “Project X” widely believed to also be the GE project. There’s a GE facility in Asheville.

The last step in assembling the package is expected to be by the N.C. Department of Commerce.

It has been a fairly remarkable choreography of multiple governments for a project that could significantly benefit the state and Durham. GE officials have not publicly confirmed the purpose of the expansions they are contemplating. But they are widely expected to be for manufacture of its next-generation Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion (LEAP) engines.

Ted Conner, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce’s chief economic development officer, said Monday business leaders hope the Durham plant will assemble the engines from parts manufactured at the other plants across the state.

The project will add about 50 jobs to the 350 at the plant and they are, as economic development people say, “good-paying jobs,” averaging about $60,000 a year.

As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported, Conner told the City Council last week that GE’s past work at the plant has helped show that not only is manufacturing “not dead in Durham,” it’s been a major contributor to the city’s economic growth.

“We need jobs, and have too many unemployed,” Councilman Don Moffitt said at the meeting. “Opportunities like this are something we should reach out for.”

We agree, and salute the council and commissioners for their support. We hope the last pieces of the package come together and succeed in persuading GE Aviation that North Carolina is the place to grow.