Thursday, June 20, 2024

Eastern: Up, up and away

In a 20,000-square-foot hangar with a glistening floor that could pass for the home ice of Raleigh’s Carolina Hurricanes, North State Aviation landed in Kinston’s Global TransPark in September 2015 with high hopes. By now, it expected to have invested nearly $1 million and hired 109 people in high-paying aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul jobs. When the Winston-Salem-based company pulled the plug in March after losing the business of Chicago-based United Airlines, it cut 345 jobs, in addition to those promised for Kinston. It was a comedown for the TransPark and a somber note for the state’s aviation industry.

“We were disappointed,” says Lenoir County Economic Development Director Mark Pope. “We don’t like to see anyone losing jobs or business. But they’d only gotten up to about 17 [employees] here, and when you have an empty hangar that size, you’re going to get some looks. We’ve already got a couple of projects that might fit in that building.”

The North State decision carries two lessons. First, after 20 years of ups and downs, the controversial, state-owned TransPark has reached a mass that allows it to absorb setbacks without wrenching questions about its future.

TransPark interim Director Rick Barkes cites a 2016 study by the N.C. Department of Transportation that estimates the aviation-themed industrial park’s economic impact at about $452 million, fueled by key tenant Spirit AeroSystems. The Wichita, Kan.-based company’s future in Kinston was boosted last fall when its client, European plane maker Airbus, extended its contract to make the center fuselage section of its A350 jetliner there. Spirit employs about 800 full-time, part-time and contract employees, about 300 more than three years ago. The park also has about 10 other tenants, boosting aviation-related jobs to roughly 1,350.

“We ranked sixth in overall economic impact and 11th in employment among the 72 public airports in the state,” Barkes says. “Our total payroll was over $30 million. That compares to 2014 when we had 456 jobs and a $21 million payroll.”

North State’s other message is more sobering. Stiff competition from Latin American rivals that also maintain and repair planes prompted the shutdown, CEO Gary Smith told state officials. That had been the company’s bread-and-butter since its 2010 launch at Winston-Salem’s Smith Reynolds Airport. Statewide, the Department of Commerce says about 1,000 companies are in the aviation business.

North State’s departure will leave the TransPark with about 90,000 square feet of available, leasable space, Barkes says, but the development won’t limit its focus to aircraft repair. It’s also targeting multimodal shipping, agriculture and other sectors, including possible contract work on the U.S. Marine Corps’ new F-35 fighter to be stationed at Cherry Point. “All we can do is keep our eye on the ball and go for it.”

WILSON — Cornerstone Bank named Chris Robbins chief executive officer. Chief credit officer since 2014, he previously worked for The Little Bank in Greenville and RBC Centura (now PNC Bancorp) in Rocky Mount. Robbins succeeds Mark Holmes, who will remain president and become chief financial officer. Cornerstone had $109.9 million in assets as of Dec. 31.

WILMINGTON — Wayne, N.J.-based Valley National Bank and Raleigh-based North State Bank chose nCino to provide software for their commercial lending businesses. Valley National has about $23 billion in assets and operates more than 200 branches in Florida, New Jersey and New York. North State Bank had assets of about $784 million as of Dec. 31.

WILMINGTON — North Carolina Ports announced two new container services. A weekly trans-Pacific service that will include stops in China and South Korea begins this month. A new weekly service that will provide access to markets in south China, southeast Asia and India begins in June.

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