‘Project Thunderbird’: Potential airplane manufacturer could bring 1,000-plus jobs to Piedmont Triad International Airport

Southeast Region

An aerial view of the airport construction at Piedmont Triad International Airport. (Courtesy of PTIA)

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Another 1,000-plus-jobs economic development project could be headed to the Piedmont Triad on the wings of a so-called “Project Thunderbird.”

On Monday, the General Assembly passed a budget amendment bill including $106.75 million in the appropriation for the Piedmont Triad International Airport should an “airplane manufacturer” decide to relocate there.

The airport has been doing site-development work on about 1,000 acres on the north side of Interstate 73 and a taxiway across that highway to connect the property to an existing runway. The legislature’s appropriation would be directed for more development of that site plus the construction of hangars, which would be used by a possible manufacturer.

The Job Development Investment Grant terms the project “a high-yield project for an airplane manufacturer in Guilford County.”

The news about the possible airplane manufacturer emerged during votes being taken on the final day of the General Assembly’s in-person session.

State Sen. Donnie Lambeth, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, introduced the measure on the floor and dubbed the plan as “Project Thunderbird,” state House Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said. State Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro) said that was the “code name” for the project and didn’t really relate to anything specific.

The bill didn’t specify how many jobs might be associated with the project, as economic development grants typically do, but Robinson said, “I was told by Commerce it was over a thousand jobs.”

The bill does say average wages would be at least $60,000.

“It would be significant for Guilford County and surrounding counties,” Robinson said.

State Rep. and House Majority Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) said in an email that this development package is not related to the recently revealed discussions about Toyota’s possibly building a facility to manufacture batteries for electronic vehicles at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite near Liberty.

“The economic incentive for the airport is designed to prepare PTI for a large project if an investor chooses to locate there. It is unrelated to the mega site,” he said. 

Some $15 million would be used for site work at the airport, $35 million for roadwork through the NC Department of Transportation, and $56.75 million for the airport to use “for the construction of one or more new hangars.”

Robinson and Harrison said they couldn’t provide further insights.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners scheduled a work session for 5 p.m. Thursday when there would be a closed session to consider “expansion of an industry into the area or an economic development incentive.”

Phone messages and emails sent to other members of the greater Greensboro legislative delegation and to a spokesperson for the NC Department of Commerce did not generate an immediate response.

The Piedmont Triad Airport Authority issued a statement around midday that says it can’t discuss specifics about ongoing projects but that interest in the airport has been high.

“We can say that for many decades, PTI has been home to important aerospace employers like
Honda, FedEx, HAECO, and Cessna. Over the last 10 years, the Authority has focused on preparing
nearly 1,000 acres to be ready for continued growth in the aerospace industry,” the statement said.

“This land, combined with one of the best surface transportation networks in the country,
outstanding utility infrastructure, and a long-established talent pipeline, make the airport one of
the best locations in the world for the aerospace industry.

“The airport has attracted the interest of a number of aerospace companies, which the local
economic development community is actively pursuing. The Authority greatly appreciates the
strong support it has received from the state Legislature and the Governor’s office, and others,
to attract aerospace jobs to the state and region.”

Expansion at the airport has been an ongoing process, with the addition of a taxiway across I-73 to the property where the former Pleasant Ridge Golf Course is located.

This follows the recent news that Toyota and Panasonic appear to be targeting the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite near Liberty for a new plant to manufacture batteries for electronic vehicles.

Both Bloomberg News and Automotive News have reported that Toyota has selected the site, which was runner up for the Toyota-Mazda manufacturing plant in 2018, and the state has budgeted incentives for a project that would add 1,750 jobs. The Randolph County Board of Commissioners next week will consider economic incentives for that project.

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