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Signature Bank threw fundraiser for McHenry, who now probes its downfall


Ten days before Signature Bank collapsed, Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) — the House Financial Services Chair overseeing an inquiry into the bank’s failure — was inside the bank’s boardroom on New York’s Fifth Avenue to raise thousands of dollars from bank executives. A spokesperson said that McHenry’s campaign won’t process any of the contributions from the event.

Chatham property adjacent to VinFast site hits market for $50M


Chatham County is looking for a neighbor for VinFast, the electric SUV maker based in Vietnam that has a $4 billion dollar commitment to build a factory near Moncure. Now a 339-acre parcel of land next door is up for sale at $50 million plus – more than $150,000 an acre.

Collins Aerospace adds more Winston-Salem layoffs


Collins Aerospace is letting go 11 more employees from its Winston-Salem facilities. In late January, Collins notified the state of plans to lay off approximately 195 employees by June 30. The company, which said the layoffs would be permanent, blamed the move on continued weakness in demand in the aircraft industry.

Democrats, advocates want state’s corporate tax retained


Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups called for blocking the planned elimination of North Carolina’s corporate income tax. They argued that companies that benefit from operating in the state should pay a proper share for necessary public services. The legislature passed a budget law in 2021 that directs the corporate income tax be phased out by 2030.

CEO exits Morrisville software company following layoffs


Jaggaer CEO Jim Bureau is no longer with the Morrisville procurement software company after less than four years in the role. Scott Byrnes, senior vice president of global marketing, said in an email that Bureau and Jaggaer “mutually agreed to part ways” last month. Jaggaer, which confirmed layoffs in December, has more than 1,100 employees.

Post-COVID revaluation shows malls are worth less in Mecklenburg


The assessed value of some of Mecklenburg County’s most high-profile shopping centers and malls declined or was mostly flat in the most recent property revaluation, while the value of most homes surged. SouthPark is Charlotte’s most exclusive shopping mall, saw its assessed value drop from $323 million in 2019 to $274 million.

Mecklenburg home values soar in revaluation, but fancy clubs got a break


While Mecklenburg County’s new property valuation boosted the average value of Charlotte residences by 58%, value of four elite country clubs declined by more than 25%. Quail Hollow, Carmel, Pipe Glen and Charlotte Country have lower appraisals because it’s harder for clubs to make a profit even as land values soared, the assessor says.

Down 40%, Asheville police are overstretched


The Asheville Police Department has been operating at a reduced capacity, now just 60 percent, for more than two years. Police Chief, David Zack told Asheville Watchdog that it could be another decade before the force returns to pre-pandemic levels. Fewer than one in five Asheville police officers actually live in Asheville.

Promising time for Global TransPark

The Global TransPark

I went over to the North Carolina Global TransPark in Kinston last week, because there are interesting things to see in a large industrial park with an 11,500-foot-runway and lots of jets.

It is an hour drive from my home on the Wake side of Johnston County, and that is significant. The state is turning U.S. 70 into Interstate 42, and it will run by the TransPark on its way from the Raleigh suburbs to Morehead City.

It is easy to imagine living in one of the new communities springing up along I-95 in eastern Johnston and commuting to GTP. The challenge has been getting folks to come take a look. You will be surprised if it’s been 20 years, or even 10.

It was once the Kinston airport, with a few commercial flights. The state took it over in the 1990s and created the Global TransPark, run by an authority. The idea was to create an industrial park for manufacturing that would fly components and raw materials in and finished products out. That didn’t happen. But the folks in Lenoir, Wayne and Greene counties have stuck to a vision of GTP as their key economic development asset.

The TransPark has grown into a regional center for the aviation industry. North Carolina has steadily built a multi-faceted aviation industry all over the state — engines, components, corporate jets, maintenance, repair and operations — and Kinston has become one of those places because of GTP.

At GTP and its immediate surroundings — a mile radius — some 1,800 folks are employed, making an average of more than $66,000. In surrounding Lenoir County, the average wage is $46,000. The reason for GTP was to create better-paying jobs in the heart of Eastern North Carolina, a region that has struggled for 30 years to replace textiles and tobacco.

One of GTP’s largest tenants is Spirit AeroSystems, where 450 folks make wing and fuselage components for Airbus and other customers in more than 800,000 square feet, according to the company’s most recent annual report. One of the largest charter jet companies in the nation, flyExclusive, has grown over the past seven years at GTP into a fleet of more than 90 jets and around 800 employees, with large maintenance and repair facilities.

Draken International is another aviation tenant. Draken is a Texas company whose jets act as the training enemy for North Carolina-based pilots from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro and from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock. Draken has grown to around 80 pilots and technicians at GTP, and a new, 30,000-square-foot hangar is in the works.

One of the original tenants, Mountain Air Cargo, has a maintenance and repair facility.

And Lenoir Community College is building a $25 million Aviation Center of Excellence at GTP, a 100,000-square-foot facility offering training in aviation systems, aircraft construction, unmanned aircraft systems and an Aviation Academy for high school students. The facility is scheduled to open in Fall 2025.

But one of the most interesting tenants from a growth standpoint is Fleet Readiness Center East, the Navy’s aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul depot on MCAS Cherry Point, a little over an hour’s drive east down U.S. 70 from GTP. Some 4,000 folks, including 1,000 engineers, work in Havelock at FRC East. The facility has been repairing and overhauling military aircraft for 80 years. It is the largest aeronautical services, logistics and engineering services provider in North Carolina.

Business is good at the depot, more than $1 billion a year, with growing work on the F-35, one of the military’s fifth-generation fighters, and other platforms. Two years ago, to free up hanger space at Cherry Point, FRC East moved its repair line for the UH-1 “Huey” helicopter to GTP. Because the 90 or so workers had a new building, they could configure it in ways that made their work more efficient. The FRC East artisans were able to reduce their turnaround time. As that was happening, FRC East and GTP officials were discussing a bigger project, bringing in repair and overhaul work of the Navy and Marine C-130s that is now done at an Air Force depot in Utah.

There isn’t room at FRC East for these large transports, but there would be at GTP, which covers 2,500 acres. The idea is that GTP, which can borrow money, would get a lease deal with the Navy to cover the debt payments and finance construction of the new hangars.

Preston Hunter, a veteran NC DOT engineer and Lenoir native who is now GTP executive director, gave his board an update on the proposal at its meeting last week. His briefing was encouraging. One big step is that the Navy has given an executive at Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command the authority to execute an agreement for the C-130 facility, says Hunter.

Preston Hunter

“He came down two weeks ago,” says Hunter. “We had a good meeting here at the GTP.”

Initially, when GTP and FRC East started talking about the project a while ago, the price tag was about $250 million, based on a 10-plane capacity. But discussions turned to additional space for paint operations, which is a crucial part of maintaining and overhauling military aircraft. “Also, when you start looking at how much room do you need, ‘I need this much room for the planes’ back shop space,’” recounts Hunter. The project has expanded.

“If we would do a complete buildout right now, you’re talking [an] over 700,000-square-foot building,” he says. So the estimate is now in the $450 to $500 million range, Hunter added. If that happens, that would be similar in size to what Spirit has at GTP in its facilities near the end of the runway.

“So where we’re at now with FRC is, alright, really bearing down, right, what do you need, what can you get by with, how do you stage this, how do you phase this? So it can get built, and you can afford the debt service on this. So that’s kind of where we are right now,” says Hunter.

A couple of other FRC East developments also bear on what might be needed at GTP. FRC East was recently designated as the repair depot for 81 major components of the new Air Force MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter, the planned replacement for the UH-1N Huey. Like the Huey, the new helicopter, now being tested, will help provide security for missile sites and transport top government officials and security forces. It is too soon to know whether the GTP workload will increase when it starts coming in in around five years.

But FRC East also recently got designated as the stateside depot for another new platform, the HH-60W Jolly Green II, the Air Force’s new combat rescue helicopter. The first one is expected to arrive for maintenance in fiscal 2027, and could result in around 100 new jobs.

What this means is that GTP will likely keep the workload with the Huey replacements and could add work with the Jolly Green II.

“This is a brand new workload,” Hunter says of the Jolly Green II.  “They’re purchasing them now.  The thought is they would do that work, hopefully, at the same facility as the C-130s.”

“Most recently, when we met with them, we said, ‘Look, what kind of workforce are you talking about creating?’ And they’re come back to us now with, ‘This entire workload comes in, you’re looking at 450 new jobs for the C-130 and for that new helicopter.’ That’s a big input for here at the GTP,” he says.

Now that GTP has those workforce projections, it is looking to see if there are “additional incentives we can get from the economic development side for this project, to help push it along,” says Hunter.

When you listen to discussions like last week’s board meeting, you get a closeup look at what has emerged around Global TransPark – an aviation and aeronautics cluster that fits together. It includes Seymour Johnson AFB; FRC East; East Carolina University in Greenville, with its industrial engineering technology program; Lenoir, Craven and other community colleges in the East; and Elizabeth City State with its aviation program. NC State is down at Havelock with engineering programs in partnership with Craven, and ECU is also there. And flyExclusive and Spirit AeroSystems are key employers.  And at the center of it all in Kinston, making things happen, is GTP.

N.C. insurance commissioner opposes Blue Cross-backed bill


By Ray Gronberg

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey says he doesn’t support “in its current form” a General Assembly proposal to give Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina permission to transfer assets to a new nonprofit holding company.

Instead, “we should slow this process down, put this bill before a study committee and see what changes are needed to best protect the interest of consumers,” Causey said in a statement his office emailed to the N.C. Tribune last week.

He added that he worries the bill:

  • Will “harm consumers and has the potential to raise health insurance premiums in the future”;
  • Is “a backdoor route to get around the conversion statutes the General Assembly passed in the 1990s”;
  • And undermines the Department of Insurance’s ability “to regulate for the public interest.”

Causey’s statement alluded to House Bill 346 and Senate Bill 296, which Blue Cross and legislative supporters argue would give the insurer the additional flexibility it needs to compete in the modern era.

The bill would allow Blue Cross to restructure, subordinating itself to a new nonprofit that would absorb at least some of its current assets and that would have greater freedom to pursue business and investment opportunities.

The Department of Insurance would retain the ability to supervise asset transfers, but they would be exempt from the so-called “Conversion Act” that otherwise requires the creation of a foundation to receive 100% of the insurer’s fair market value.

The lead sponsor of the House version is Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg. Co-sponsors include the majority and minority leaders of the chamber, Reps. John Bell, R-Wayne, and Robert Reives, D-Chatham.

The bill faces opposition from Martin Eakes, the longtime CEO of Durham-based Self Help Credit Union and an opponent of prior Blue Cross conversion efforts dating back more than 25 years.

The Senate version’s lead sponsors are Sens. Todd Johnson, David Craven and Dean Proctor, Republicans from Union, Randolph, Catawba counties, respectively.

Legislative study committees are ad-hoc bodies that generally work over the winter to try shaping a consensus strategy for addressing difficult issues.

This story originally appeared in the North Carolina Tribune.