Top photo courtesy of Haeco America
Depending on perspective, Rick Reed, the Triad’s new aerospace-industry recruiter, has an easy or rather difficult task. It’ll be hard to top Haeco Americas’ $60 million hangar at Piedmont Triad International Airport, where by year-end 500 employees will maintain and repair jetliners. It shouldn’t be hard to shine, though, considering that many of the region’s new aerospace workers once would have filled textile, tobacco and furniture jobs that no longer exist.
Reed was selected by a consortium consisting of the airport, Piedmont Triad Partnership, Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, Winston-Salem Business and High Point Economic Development. Authorities portray his hiring to succeed Jim McArthur as another sign of the 12-county region’s rising role as the state’s aviation center and a natural fit for an area with a manufacturing heritage. McArthur resigned to accept an economic-development post with Charlotte-based Duke Energy.
“We have a lot of folks once involved in other manufacturing who can end up doing similar work in aerospace companies,” says Kevin Baker, PTI’s executive director. Former furniture workers are finding jobs in some of the Triad’s aviation-related companies that make airplane seats and cabin-storage bins, he says.
“With the loss of industries like textiles, tobacco and furniture, replacing these jobs with a next-generation industry like aerospace is crucial,” Baker says.
Stan Kelly, partnership president, says aerospace is one of the top three economic sectors in the Triad. “It’s big today and growing. We’ve got 15,000-plus employees associated with it one way or another. It’s one of the transformative industries for the region.”
North Carolina has the nation’s second-fastest growing aerospace industry, according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, the state’s principal industry recruiter. The Triad has about 200 companies. Many are concentrated at PTI, while others are scattered across the region, such as around Winston-Salem’s Smith Reynolds Airport.
“On the airport itself, we have about 5,700 [jobs], mostly in the aerospace industry,” Baker says. “Honda [Aircraft] and Haeco combined employ about 4,500 and FedEx about 1,000.” PTI accounts for about $5.8 billion in annual economic impact and 25,000 jobs, according to a state report released in January.
Reed says he expects to diversify that employment base. One focus will be an emerging aerospace sector called completion companies, in which nearly finished airplanes arrive for installation of seats, electronic equipment, paint of an airline’s livery and similar work. Though Reed will peddle sites in all of the Triad’s counties, PTI and Smith Reynolds will have a leg up for such companies, which require runway access. PTI also has about 800 acres of adjoining land available.
Formerly president of Reed International Aerospace Group, Reed has more than 40 years of aviation experience, including as a pilot. A 1977 N.C. State University aerospace engineering graduate, his consulting company was based in Winston-Salem, where Piedmont Airlines, his one-time employer, began in 1940. Losses at stalwarts such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Hanes Mills have battered the region’s economy.
The area’s infrastructure favors aerospace, says Brent Christensen, CEO of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not talking about just bricks, mortar, water and sewer.
We’ve got aerospace programs in high schools and in Greensboro Technical Community College and Forsyth Tech,” he says. “Rick’s got incredible contacts in the industry.”