On June 11 the uncertain budget met the economic development project no one had been allowed to talk about: Council signed off on $1.5 million in tax rebates for a long-unspecified company (“Project X” in both city and Buncombe documents). The then-unnamed company promised to bring 52 high-paying jobs to the area by 2017.
Before the vote, the Asheville Tribune had reported that the company was GE Aviation subsidiary Unison Corp., which has a facility in east Asheville at the Sweeten Creek Industrial Park. On June 17, a GE official confirmed to the Asheville Citizen-Times that the company will expand its local operations to manufacture ceramic matrix composites for jet engines. It will also develop facilities across four counties and three municipalities, making it the first company in America to make the high-tech, high-efficiency parts.
For the local deal, the city will pay the rebates over seven years as the company progresses with its Buncombe facility.
Earlier this month, the Buncombe County Commissioners approved a complicated deal providing $15.7 million in land acquisition and construction for the company, along with $2.68 million in cash grants.
Council approved the deal 5-1, with Council member Cecil Bothwell voting against it. While it's standard to keep economic development projects confidential while negotiations are going on, by the time tax incentives make their way to a Council vote, the company's name is usually public.
“The people deserve to know what the incentives are going for,” he said. Nonetheless, during the hearing and vote, Bothwell said only that Project X was an aviation company, noting that its sheer size meant it shouldn't need incentives. — David Forbes