Leadership Asheville Forum Highlights Pratt & Whitney - TribPapers

Leadership Asheville Forum Highlights Pratt & Whitney

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Asheville – The March Critical Issues Luncheon, hosted by Leadership Asheville Forum, featured discussion of the region-wide impacts of Pratt & Whitney. One of the largest jet engine producers in the world, Pratt & Whitney opened a 1.2 million-square-foot plant on 100 acres in the Biltmore Park development in southern Buncombe County. 

Speakers at the luncheon included Clark Duncan, who serves as Senior Vice President of the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition and Biltmore Farms Vice President of Strategic Development Ben Teague. Pratt &Whitney Environmental and Health & Safety Manager Michelle Ragland also joined the conversation. 

The three speakers outlined the partnerships involved in bringing the Pratt & Whitney facility to the county and the facility’s current and anticipated impacts. 

“I always appreciate the opportunity to center the conversation of economic development in our community as one of the tools at our disposal in responding to the challenges of the day,” said Duncan. “Whether that be growing wages in Buncombe County and WNC, expanding economic opportunity to disconnected communities, or really thinking about the needs of the next generation.”

First announced in October 2020, the 1.2 million-square-foot advanced manufacturing facility produces turbine airfoils, which are critical to the commercial and military aerospace industries. Projected employment numbers are 800 full-time jobs, with an average salary of $68,000. 

At the time of the announcement, it represented the largest new manufacturing commitment made in the state within the last five years. The project remains the largest employer commitment for new jobs in the 23 counties of Western North Carolina. 

The site selection process took 18 months, with the COVID-19 pandemic and company acquisitions slowing down the decision process. Four other states were considered during the selection process and over ten counties within North Carolina were chosen for initial visits. The three speakers emphasized that the community partnerships and shared values distinguished Buncombe County as the final site. 

“We believed the project could truly be transformative for our region,” said Teague, who was involved in the initial proposal and tours of the region. Biltmore Farms made an initial $30 million investment in site preparation and access, and sold the property to Pratt & Whitney for a symbolic $1. 

“In many ways, it was a momentous occasion for us,” said Duncan, emphasizing the ripple effect of the project on the local tax base. Duncan said that Pratt & Whitney committed to over $650 million in new, taxable investments to Buncombe County, with property tax bills of approximately $3–4 million dollars annually. 

Pratt & Whitney originally committed to 800 jobs by 2027. Ragland estimated they would reach that number by July 1, 2024. As of the presentation, 585 employees were working onsite. Ragland stated that 84% of new hires were local. She stated that there was a mix of experienced manufacturing technicians and new hires with no manufacturing experience. Pratt & Whitney is partnering with AB Tech to offer training and certification for new hires. 

“We want to be here for a long time,” said Ragland. “We want to be the employer of choice.”

Ragland emphasized Pratt & Whitney’s commitment to both sustainability and community engagement. The factory is the largest LEED-accredited facility in Western North Carolina, earning Silver Certification for energy use, recycled material use in construction, stormwater management and other sustainability benchmarks. 

Ragland shared Pratt & Whitney’s work with local nonprofits, with contributions of $500,000 since 2021 to over 20 organizations, as well as scholarship programs and monthly volunteer opportunities for employees. 

“Our corporate social responsibility program fosters employee engagement rooted in teamwork, culture, volunteerism, and community,” said Ragland. 

Following their presentations, the three speakers took questions from the audience, including available jobs, future development opportunities, and concerns about the impact of the facility on the strained housing market and congested roads. 

Asheville Leadership Forum hosts monthly events to bring light to important issues in Asheville and Buncombe County. The next Critical Issues Luncheon will be held on April 24th, with legal expert Lucien “Skip” Capone discussing the benefits and controversy of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs and their impact on higher education in North Carolina. Registration is required by visiting leadershipashevilleforum.com.