Buncombe plans $5M training partnership with Pratt & Whitney

Buncombe County seal

Buncombe County’s investment in a controversial Pratt & Whitney manufacturing plant may go beyond the $27 million in tax rebates unanimously approved by the Board of Commissioners in November. At their meeting of Tuesday, May 18, board members will consider approving a $5 million budget for a workforce training center near the South Asheville aerospace factory to be operated by A-B Tech.

According to a document available prior to the meeting, the 20,000-square-foot facility would “provide a pipeline of skilled workers prior to the plant opening, helping to recruit qualified candidates and pre-train and post-train employees.” The funding would come from future county bonds that would be repaid through local sales tax revenues.

Although the document includes no timeline for completion of the training center, local community colleges have already started training programs specifically targeted at prospective Pratt & Whitney employees. A-B Tech offers short courses in machining and manufacturing processes, graduates of which will be guaranteed an interview at the plant. The guarantee also applies for graduates of three courses offered by Blue Ridge Community College.

One local activist group, Reject Raytheon AVL, continues to protest the Pratt & Whitney factory over its ties to Raytheon Technologies, a Massachusetts-based firm that is one of the United States’ largest weapons suppliers. Its organizers have scheduled an unspecified direct action at the construction site of a bridge to the factory over the French Broad River on Saturday, May 22.

In other news

County Manager Avril Pinder will present her recommended budget to the board, giving commissioners two weeks to consider the proposal before the scheduled public hearing on Tuesday, June 1. Although the document was not linked to the county’s agenda at press time, the most recent budget presentation, delivered by Buncombe staff on May 11, projected total general fund expenditures of $360 million and a property tax rate of 48.8 cents per $100 in valuation.

The board will also hear a presentation from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority. Although passenger numbers at the Fletcher facility were down over 65% for the period from February 2020 to February 2021 compared to the previous 12 months (the latest window for which data is available), the airport received at least $14 million in federal relief and did not lay off any employees due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 14 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • Directing nearly $71,000 in Federal Transit Administration grant funding to the city of Asheville to continue the extension of bus service along New Leicester Highway. Roughly 559 total passengers boarded or departed the bus along the two-mile route extension from July through December 2020.
  • Transferring over $317,000 in lapsed salary from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to cover the county’s required match for a federal grant in support of three new detectives. Board Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara voted against making the hires in July 2020.
  • Approving an application for $1 million in state education lottery funds to upgrade security hardware at the entrances of county schools. If approved, the project is not expected to require additional county funding.

The commissioners will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m. to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response and other topics. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

In-person public comment will be accepted at the start of the meeting. Those planning to comment must sign up online or call 828-250-4001 by Monday, May 17, at 3 p.m. In alignment with a May 14 executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper, in-person attendance without face coverings will be allowed throughout the meeting.

Commenters can also register to speak via Zoom. Regardless of medium, all commenters will receive three minutes to address the board.

Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. on May 14 to reflect new public attendance protocols.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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6 thoughts on “Buncombe plans $5M training partnership with Pratt & Whitney

  1. Specious

    Why are tax payers being asked to pay for another A-B Tech building when the school has struggled to pay for its existing facilities and it has seen declining enrollment and fiscal issues? Why a new facility when the college’s long-existing and only partly used Enka campus is just a few miles from the Pratt & Whitney facility? Who is going to pay for the upkeep of a new, separate college facility over the years, including the additional costs of its staffing, security, grounds, maintenance, utilities, costly training equipment, etc? What is the utilization of existing campus facilities, particularly with enrollment and program reductions? What toll have the newest college buildings taken on the college’s budget? What kind of ROI is expected for the county and the college? How does this fit with the college’s most recent master plan? Just how many separate sites around Asheville are taxpayers expected to afford, particularly with increasing online delivery and a poor financial forecast for higher education in general as exacerbated by over-building, the pandemic, and greater competition for funding and students? What kind of utilization is expected, particularly with community colleges in other counties also stepping up to train workers? How does this decision affect support to existing programs at the college and service of other community stakeholders? Where is the needs analysis and cost-benefit study to justify that this decision is in the net best interests of the college and community?

    • indy499

      Don’t know if you are just ranting or are actually trying to influence an outcome. If the later, paragraphs could improve your readership. Way too hard to wade through.

  2. Bethany

    Guess we should thank Commissioner Edwards for looking out for her employer, ABTech, in this.

  3. Susan

    From Reject Raytheon AVL research:

    Local news said that Buncombe County Commissioners are going to give AB Tech $5million to build a facility to train up Pratt & Whitney workers. They already give P&W $27million in tax incentives. NC government gave $$15.5million and Golden Leaf Foundation gave $12million for the access bridge. Quite the chunk of change our local and state governments are handing over so Pratt & Whitney can build engines for F-35s – and this is on top of the $3.8BILLION that the US federal government is handing over to Israel alone to buy this toxic crap like F-35s to kill people in Gaza.

    From Gaza: Rescuers dig for survivors as Gaza suffers ‘most intense’ bombing

    At least 33 people died in Gaza after 150 Israeli air strikes hit the besieged enclave in one hour overnight.

    Quote: “Our entire neighbourhood – from Tel Shubeir to Palmera intersection – was bombed,” said Ramzi Eshkuntana, who was at home when he said 40 successive air raids fell on the area in just a few minutes.

    “We ran out of the house and saw the destruction of most the buildings around us, including my brother’s house. His wife and four children were killed as they were sleeping,” said Eshkuntana.

    “My brother’s wife was pulled out with her arms around her children,” he added. “These weren’t F-16 missiles; these were bombs from F-35 warplanes.”

    LINK:
    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/16/gaza-suffers-most-intense-bombing-as-rescuers-dig-for-survivors?fbclid=IwAR2FFoO9SpFh1VK9o-p-JQF63rnxmvyfqylbuEWEYSXJvLlf_NoFeVV1qPc

    I recommend reading the article.

    • Susan

      maybe someone could explain how all of this is helping people in Buncombe country? They say they are doing it for “good jobs” but research has shown that $$ invested in other industries (besides the MIC) have better return on the dollar.

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