BY MELODY SHANK
At the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ Feb. 15 meeting, I presented a petition on behalf of Reject Raytheon AVL. Signed by more than 300 people, it asked the commissioners to reconsider their approval of $27 million in economic development incentives to Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies — and, more importantly and urgently, to enact a moratorium on approving new industrial facilities with ties to the military. Ever since the news broke about the company’s decision to build a 1.2 million–square-foot factory here, our coalition has spoken out against the plan.
Our concerns include the environmental impact on the French Broad River, the disruption or destruction of the habitats of numerous vulnerable species in the nearby forest and wetlands, and the misguided move away from a path that would mitigate the climate crisis (the U.S. military, for which Pratt & Whitney builds jet engines, contributes mightily to greenhouse gas emissions). There’s also the lack of transparency that kept residents — and, apparently, the county commissioners themselves — in the dark during the negotiations. But beyond all that, we object to welcoming the world’s second-largest defense contractor — or, more accurately, war corporation — to our beautiful mountains, our city and our neighborhood.
Chamber of Commerce staffers were exuberant about landing a Fortune 500 company that would bring well-paying jobs to the area. It would be a draw for other Big Tech and advanced manufacturing businesses. And, they noted, it would put Asheville on the radar of international companies and investors.
So why is this a problem? Why shouldn’t we all be thrilled? Jobs! Influence! Property tax revenues! New investment! More jobs!
Not so fast. Marrying one of the world’s biggest war corporations has consequences. And big it is. Last year, Raytheon reported a $3.9 billion profit on sales of $64.4 billion, second only to Lockheed Martin’s $67 billion. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the federal government awarded Raytheon military contracts worth $54 billion, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.
Remember: These are our tax dollars. And in those same years, Pratt & Whitney, which was part of United Technologies until a 2020 merger, received contracts worth at least $10 billion. A substantial percentage of Raytheon’s total revenues comes from arms sales to foreign countries, enabling the company to fill its pockets while extending the military’s reach across the globe. Not exactly a benign enterprise. And I won’t even get into the amount of waste in these deals.
Bringing a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies to Western North Carolina extends the reach of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower presciently called “the military-industrial complex” far beyond its already substantial presence in our state. Military facilities dot much of Eastern North Carolina, and Fort Bragg, outside Fayetteville, is among the world’s largest.
Meanwhile, since the early 2000s, military base operations have been increasingly outsourced. Many corporations have sprung up to provide things like uniforms, food, chemicals, technology, construction and research. Between 2014 and 2019, the total value of defense contracts received by North Carolina companies ballooned from $2.5 billion to $5.2 billion, according to war industry researcher and author Christian Sorensen. Again, those are our tax dollars.
The long arm of the armaments industry
Sorensen maintains that most of those smaller defense contractors could convert their products or services for civilian uses as part of a broader transition to an economy built on local needs and sustainability.
The Pratt & Whitney deal, however, brings a major player in the military-industrial complex right to our doorstep. Public officials and economic development officers have claimed that the extended reach of this intricate web of influence is not a local concern, but Eisenhower knew better.
He predicted that the armaments industry would affect every city and state in the country economically, politically and spiritually. By strategically placing their plants in as many congressional districts as possible, war corporations’ influence trickles up from communities and states to federal decision-makers. Like our local governmental officials, members of Congress find it hard to say no to what these businesses want. Whether it’s county and state tax incentives and grants or federal budgetary dollars, they tend to be approved with few meaningful restrictions.
Paying the piper
In addition to billions of dollars in defense contracts, Raytheon has received nearly $1 billion in state and local incentives, loans and other investments from 31 states over the last two decades. At $49 million, North Carolina ranks fourth in the total amount of such subsidies provided to the company since 2000. That figure includes the $15.5 million Job Development Investment Grant that the N.C. Department of Commerce gave Raytheon for the 800 jobs the company claims it will create in Asheville over 10 years.
And when its current agreement with Buncombe County expires, Raytheon may well ask for more. In the mid-1990s, the company threatened to move its headquarters out of state unless Massachusetts provided additional concessions. After a prolonged public relations campaign, Raytheon won, saving millions of dollars in corporate income taxes.
Similarly, General Dynamics, another of the largest U.S. defense contractors, demanded $60 million in tax rebates from Maine to keep Bath Iron Works in the state. After citizens protested, the dollar amount was lowered to $45 million. I suspect that Raytheon will be back to request additional “assistance” a decade hence.
A question of priorities
The sad truth is, the Raytheons of the world don’t care much about the people who live in the places where they operate. Their main goals are generating profits and gaining political influence. Period. And their already ample profits are substantially inflated by our federal, state and local tax dollars.
To be clear, Raytheon is not some small business that makes uniforms or prepares provisions for soldiers. It’s a megacorporation that uses the promise of jobs to fill its and its shareholders’ pockets.
It isn’t helping us move toward a green economy or find solutions to the climate crisis. It’s not helping to bolster the essential social safety net in communities across the country.
Instead, this company is promoting war and instability worldwide — serving itself and the military-industrial complex while eating up resources, at all levels of government, that could be used to meet the actual needs of humanity and the planet. For all these reasons, both Reject Raytheon AVL and I say, “No thank you, Raytheon.”
Melody Shank, a retired professor of education, has lived in Swannanoa since 2014.