Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charlotte economic developer: Boeing's a 'long shot'

Speaking to a gathering of corporate real estate professionals today, one of the region's top job recruiters said Charlotte is a "long shot" to win the emerging national bidding war for Boeing's planned 777X aircraft manufacturing plant.

Ronnie Bryant, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, made the comment during a speech at the City Club uptown to the Carolinas chapter of CoreNet Global, a professional group with chapters around the world. Bryant, whose group markets the 16-county Charlotte region to outside companies, said the Queen City is extremely competitive in recruiting jobs in many industries, including aerospace.

But referring to the quest to land the Boeing plant, he said: "I think it's a long shot for this market." Asked for elaboration after the event ended, Bryant told the Observer he didn't know if Charlotte and North Carolina would be able to match the kind of incentives other competitors are offering.

Charlotte is among more than a dozen cities and states submitting bids to win the plant and thousands of good-paying jobs that would come with it. Washington state, already home to a large Boeing presence, has offered an $8.7 billion incentives package to keep the new jobs there. "That's a big number," Bryant said. "We've never approved anything like that."

Gov. Pat McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker have declined to talk about the project. Bryant said his group isn't involved. "I don't see it," he said, referring to the chances of Charlotte getting the plant. "But maybe someone sees something I don't see."

Charlotte's economic future hinges on minority influx, chamber head says

Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan told a group of tax and accounting professionals this morning that the Queen City has come out of the recession poised for strong economic and population growth. Speaking to the Dixon Hughes Goodman accounting firm's annual Executive Tax Briefing event at the Ritz Carlton, Morgan said the city was the fastest-growing urbanized area in the nation during the first decade of the 21st century. The county's population hit 1 million earlier this year, and he said projections call for the metropolitan area to hit 4.8 million people by 2030.

Morgan attributed the growth to several factors: the continued migration of people from the Northeast to the South and West, hurricane-weary ex-Northerners who want to leave Florida but don't want a full return to the snowy North, greater numbers of young people heading to Charlotte, and the reverse migration of African Americans to the South. He pointed to a report by Black Enterprise magazine that suggested Dallas, Atlanta and Charlotte are their top three destinations.

Bob Morgan (left) with Dixon Hughes Goodman regional managing partner Matt Snow
He put up a chart showing that while Charlotte grew by 32 percent in the first decade of the new century, the white population grew by 14 percent, compared to almost 50 percent growth in the African American population.

"We talk a lot at the chamber about the importance of diversity. Not only do we think it's the right thing to do, but we think there's a business case to be made in numbers like this," he said. "The trends of diversity are only going to increase as we go forward, and for us in the Chamber of Commerce that purports to represent this marketplace, if we don't understand and relate to this growing diversity, we're not going to be relevant at some point in the future."

He added that growth brings the kind of scale -- and workforce -- necessary to attract big companies like Siemens, the turbine engine manufacturer with a large and growing Charlotte operation off Westinghouse Boulevard. While few local officials are talking much about the city's effort to win Boeing's planned new 777X aircraft plant, Morgan said the success a big manufacturer like Siemens has enjoyed in Charlotte certainly wouldn't hurt the city's case.

"As we go about pitching Charlotte to companies like Boeing, you can be sure that the Siemens story will be a key part of what we talk about."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Boeing deadline day arrives

Today's the deadline for Charlotte and the dozen or more other interested states and cities to submit applications in hopes of landing the Boeing plant that will build the new 777X airliner. It's perhaps the biggest job recruitment prize to come up for grabs around here in years. If Gov. Pat McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker feel good about the locations the state is submitting for Boeing's consideration, they weren't saying yesterday when my colleagues and I asked about it during a Charlotte Chamber event.

Several people I've talked to in N.C. economic development circles privately question whether North Carolina really has a fighting chance. They speculate that Boeing is just shopping the plant around to get the union there in Washington state to accept concessions. (If this letter from an upset Boeing machinist is any guide, the company's ties to the Puget Sound region run extremely deep, and yet union sentiment is strongly against the deal). Judging from this New York Times report, and other things I've read, it appears the machinists feel their experience and expertise in building airplanes make it a risky proposition for Boeing to go elsewhere. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee went so far as to use the words "potential disaster" to describe the kind of delays Boeing has seen at its Charleston, S.C. plant.

Clearly Washington's not letting its largest private employer go without a fight. Lawmakers there last month passed an $8.7 billion incentives package that some call the largest in U.S. history. Is Boeing worth that high a price? I guess we'll see soon enough what North Carolina and Charlotte have to say about that.