Buncombe County Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman
Raytheon’s Pratt & Whitney aerospace unit plans to invest $650 million in a 1 million-square-foot turbine airfoil manufacturing plant in Asheville and create 800 jobs through 2027. The jobs will pay an average annual salary of $68,000, higher than Buncombe County’s average of $43,134. Pratt & Whitney could receive state incentives and infrastructure improvements of more than $20.6 million over 12 years, based on hiring and investment targets.
The project has been the topic of much conjecture for months after the Asheville Citizen Tribune reported earlier this year that Biltmore Farms Co. would help develop a 750,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on property in southwestern Buncombe County that could employ as many as 1,200 people. The site involves a 445-acre track near Interstate 26 and the French Broad River.
The development was referred to as “Project Ranger” in permit applications with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and other state and federal agencies. The Golden LEAF Foundation has awarded $12 million to the Asheville Chamber’s Community Betterment Foundation to support the construction of a bridge crossing the French Broad River and connecting to N.C. 191, providing access to the plant.
The project “will enable Pratt & Whitney to continue to modernize and transform its oprations with cutting-edge technologies,” said Chris Calio, president of Pratt & Whitney, in a release. “Turbine airfoils are a critical component across our engine portfolio and demand will increase significantly as the market recovers over the next several years. We need to invest today to ensure that we have the infrastructure, production capabilities and workforce in place to meet future market demand and provide the best products to our customers worldwide.”
Biltmore Farms is controlled by the Cecil family, descendants of the Vanderbilt family that created the Biltmore Estate.
“From the moment our team met with Pratt & Whitney and learned of their plans for a world class manufacturing facility, we knew they would craft a brighter future for the people of Western North Carolina,” Jack Cecil, CEO of Biltmore Farms, said in a release.
The project is expected to encounter environmental opposition given the proximity to the river and the region’s beauty, along with Asheville’s reputation for political activism.
Pratt & Whitney makes engines used by nearly 30% of the world’s commercial passenger aircraft, while 34 armed forces globally use the company’s military engineers, according to the company’s website. The company earlier this month said it was laying off 454 salaried employees in Connecticut, including 381 at its East Hartford headquarters, citing declining airline traffic. Raytheon recently said it plans to trim 7% of workforce at its Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace divisions, or about 15,000 jobs, because of the airline industry’s troubles.