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North Carolina Emerges As An Aerospace Manufacturing Hub

07 December 2017

By Vanessa Infanzon, Bisnow Charlotte

PwC recently put North Carolina as No. 4 in the U.S. for the 2017 Aerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings. What is causing the aerospace industry to flock to the "First In Flight" state?

“Growth in aerospace manufacturing is a good thing for the commercial real estate industry,” Charlotte Regional Partnership President and CEO Ronnie Bryant said. “The PwC study sends a clear signal to the aerospace industry that North Carolina, and Charlotte, USA are locations of choice.”

North Carolina is home to 70 aerospace-specific facilities, including major players such as GE Aviation, Honda Aircraft Co., BAE Systems, Honeywell, B/E Aerospace, Spirit Aerosystems, Curtiss-Wright Corp., LORD and HAECO.

The aerospace industry has grown from three companies in 2002 to 23 in 2017 in the City of Monroe and Union County, the largest cluster in the state, according to Monroe-Union County Economic Development Executive Director Chris Plate. There are 4,000 employees in this region and it has earned a reputation for precision manufacturing.

“Virtually everything flying in the world today has parts made in Monroe, North Carolina, and Union County,” Plate said. ATI, SAFRAN Turbomeca Manufacturing and UTC Aerospace Systems have locations in the Charlotte region.

NN Inc. announced in September plans to move its headquarters from Johnson City, Tennessee, to Charlotte. The company is an advanced manufacturer of high-precision metal and plastic components for the medical, aerospace and automotive industries.

As new aerospace manufacturers and suppliers make the decision to conduct their business in the state, it will directly impact CRE by generating new opportunities for building construction and infrastructure development to support new manufacturing operations.

Total occupied square feet has increased from 39.9M SF in 2015 to 44.3M SF in 2017 for industrial spaces 1M SF or greater.

“The tremendous growth in the aerospace industry has contributed to a tightening of the industrial market and increased leasing activity in the Carolinas," JLL Director of Research Paul Hendershot said.

North Carolina has several factors that are enticing aerospace manufacturers to the area. Labor costs are 25% lower than other cities in the U.S. and corporate income tax dropped to 3% in 2017, the lowest in the nation according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“This ranking helps to illuminate what we in North Carolina already know to be true — that our state provides a well-rounded offering to any aerospace company considering relocation or expansion,” Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina CEO Christopher Chung said. “The strength of our existing industry cluster and the major companies that have chosen North Carolina serve as a testament to our state’s ability to provide skilled and affordable talent, a robust transportation infrastructure, and a business-friendly environment where business thrives.”

The infrastructure — airports, train system, roads and two seaports — adds to the state’s desirability.  

“Manufacturers want to locate in areas where real estate is affordable and they have access to their needed talent,” Bryant said.

More than 1,000 establishments make up the overall aerospace supply chain in North Carolina. Tier suppliers like to be close to Boeing's manufacturing presence in South Carolina, which continues to increase its orders on hand. 

Charlotte in particular can draw those companies because it is vibrant and has an educated pool of labor for aerospace suppliers, Desoutter Industrial Tools Vice President Aerospace Segment for North America Dave Garner said. 

“It is easy to reach for our customers and sales team with an airport that serves as a hub. It has the benefit of offering two states, North Carolina and South Carolina, to live in or establish a business.”

North Carolina’s aerospace workforce has increased nearly 36% in the last five years, far outpacing the Southeast as a whole (5.2%) and the U.S. (-3.5%).

North Carolina has been intentional in its development of a strong workforce. The public schools and the community colleges in the region are providing training and internship programs for precision manufacturing. The aviation academy at the high school level in Union County and the community college’s Tyson Family Center for Technology in Monroe are training high-caliber engineers and workers necessary for aerospace manufacturing.

“[You need] a workforce that is willing and capable to learn processes that are unique in the world,” ATI Special Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer Dan Greenfield said.

ATI has found employees willing to move for moderate climate, cultural diversity and the abundance of recreational activities.

Jet engine company ATI has three sites in the Monroe area — two for manufacturing and forging and one for research and development. It also has a joint venture with General Electric to build a facility in Richburg, South Carolina, to develop powder material that is used in jet engines.

“We have room to expand and innovate in the future," ATI Vice President of Investor Relations Scott Minder said. "With the powder facility, we are solidifying growth in the next generation technology. We are set up for today’s planes and for a long time forward.”

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