RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – “Ah, [bleep].”
Those two words – well, we can’t print the word that we had to bleep – sum up succinctly and completely how Carolina economic development backers reacted to Wednesday’s news that NetJets would not relocate to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
A person close to the NetJets recruitment team uttered that above remark when told last week by a reporter about a planned “hangar” meeting at which NetJets employees were likely to be told they wouldn’t be moving from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt.
The international airline that provides private jet service for Tiger Woods and other elites is staying put in Columbus, Ohio. So is a sister firm that focuses on pilot training. The Warren Buffett enterprise also will invest some $200 million and create more than 800 additional jobs at the Port Columbus airport. NetJets made the formal announcement on Wednesday in its 80,000 square foot hangar.
Late last year, it appeared that North Carolina could win the entire project – more than 2,000 jobs plus hundreds more to be created. But over time that prospect became less and less likely, especially as the economy soured further and the housing market went into a tailspin.
Up until late last week, N.C. folks involved in the intense recruiting battle for NetJets thought they still had a chance to win a portion of a planned expansion. According to sources, it appeared NetJets might move its operational headquarters and the training operation to RDU. They had pretty much given up on the idea that NetJets might uproot its entire 2,000 employee operation for new facilities in the Triangle.
Why? We’re told NetJets decided it didn’t want to buy 500 or some homes of employees in Columbus in order to relocate them south.
NetJets had also negotiated a potential move with officials in Florida and Texas. Columbus and the state of Ohio agreed to fork over $100 million in tax and other incentives in order to keep NetJets.
North Carolina Commerce Secretary Jim Fain delivered a graceful response in reaction to the NetJets decision.
“We are obviously disappointed that NetJets will not be establishing a major presence in North Carolina,” he said. “Through our discussions, we developed the highest regard for the company, its people and its operations. They are a quality organization and we wish them every success.
“The company’s executives emphasized there was nothing else North Carolina could have done to recruit the company here,” he added. “No doubt their strong commitment to NetJets employees in Columbus was a key factor in their decision.”
The RDU Airport Authority, meanwhile, said in a statement that it believed a winning case had been presented to NetJets.
“The Airport Authority supported our region’s economic development organizations and their efforts with NetJets,” the statement read in part. “During the process, RDU illustrated it could provide the infrastructure NetJets required to operate successfully.”
Fain and the airport folks certainly were more graceful in their reaction. However, you can believe that the off-the-record reaction was much more akin to “Ah, [bleep].”
“We’re not used to losing these things,” a forlorn executive told me. “This would have been big – BIG.”