In one of its last votes as a body with four Democrats and three Republicans, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners found bipartisan consensus on its largest-ever corporate subsidy. Members unanimously voted on Nov. 17 to award a $27 million economic development incentive, paid over 14 years, to aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, pending the achievement of certain investment and job creation targets.
No commissioners, county staff members or Pratt & Whitney representatives addressed why the subsidy was necessary for the company to make its investment during the meeting. The manufacturer is a division of Raytheon Technologies, a Fortune 50 company with revenues of over $77 billion last fiscal year; as reported by the Hartford Courant, Raytheon had approximately $10 billion in cash on hand as of Sept. 30 and plans to resume share buybacks in 2021.
But language in the resolution approving the incentive stated that Pratt & Whitney “informed the county that if the county did not promise such economic development incentives, then P&W would not plan to come to Buncombe County and complete the project.”
According to Democratic Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, she and her colleagues had spent 15 months discussing the proposal, asking “philosophical questions, very practical questions and everything in between.” Members of the public, however, didn’t learn about the project until an Oct. 22 press release from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. The terms of the county’s incentive were not publicly presented until a Nov. 5 board briefing.
Of the more than 20 commenters who called into the public hearing on the incentive, all but Kevin Kimrey, director of economic and workforce development at A-B Tech, opposed the county’s spending. The college plans to build a $5 million training center that will prepare graduates for jobs with Pratt & Whitney and other advanced manufacturing careers.
Many of those criticizing the agreement pointed to Pratt & Whitney’s role in the national military-industrial complex. Roughly a third of the manufacturer’s 2019 revenues came from military engine sales, according to a presentation delivered by company representative Dan Field. He added that “over 80%” of the Buncombe County plant’s output would support commercial aviation but did not explicitly preclude military production.
“Making our county a hub for the manufacture of tools used for lethal, violent means, known to have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the world, is absolutely unacceptable,” said Asheville resident Jenny Andry. “As an American taxpayer, I already share a portion of my wages with Raytheon’s $100 billion conglomerate, including Pratt & Whitney. I vehemently oppose sharing my home with them, too.”
While several board members, including Republican Joe Belcher and Democratic Chair Brownie Newman, said they may not necessarily agree with all of Pratt & Whitney’s decisions, they argued that the company’s promised 800 new jobs and $650 million in capital investment would bring an overall benefit to area residents.
“My question is whether the location of this new aerospace manufacturing facility will have any impact, one way or the other, on any of those important foreign policy decisions,” Newman said. “If I thought the decisions made by our local government would have a direct bearing on those issues, I would think about it differently.”