The Buncombe County Commissioners, in their vote to offer $27 million dollars in performance-based grants to Pratt & Whitney, a division of Raytheon, the 2nd largest military contractor in the country, touted the number of jobs the manufacturing plant would create. Potentially 800 jobs, but more likely closer to 525 retained jobs. Aerospace manufacturing is one the growth areas named in the AVL-Buncombe Chamber of Commerce economic development document, the AVL 5×5 2025. For the Chamber, landing the Pratt & Whitney plant is a gold star, because it will attract other such businesses to the area. As a Chamber official claimed in a recent Economic Development Coalition Board meeting, the Asheville Metro area is on the radar of international companies that might come to the area.  And, it is clear from what Buncombe County development officials have said, other development will come to the 445 acres upon which the P&W plant will sit. 

But why would a company like Pratt & Whitney come to Asheville?  And what is the jobs track record of the company at its other facilities, especially during the pandemic?  

The Connecticut Connection

On October 27, 2020, the news outlet, Hartford Courant reported that P&W was moving to Asheville, North Carolina, just after the announcement was made in our state. The plan is to build a new, more automated plant that would operate at a much lower cost than its 3 plants in Connecticut. Even with the projected median salary of $55,000 at the new Asheville plant–an amount well above the median salary for the region–employee pay will be lower in North Carolina, a Right-to-Work state, than for the unionized workers in Connecticut.

Additionally, electricity costs will be lower. Foundries consume a tremendous amount of energy and Connecticut has high electricity costs. Raytheon, Pratt and Whitney’s parent company, expects to save $175 million a year by opening the North Carolina plant. The plant will operate around the clock and employ up to 800 people by 2029.  It will be used to build turbine airfoils used in F-35 fighter jet engines and commercial aircraft.

Commercial aerospace revenue has fallen sharply during the 11-month COVID-19 pandemic as planes are grounded and travel restrictions drag on. Pratt & Whitney claims that 75% of its engines are bound for commercial airplanes, leaving 25% for military jets. So one can only wonder if these percentages will be rebalanced with the decrease in commercial aviation. “It’s important that government boosts up it’s own spending when the civilian aircraft market is suffering,” Quinnipiac University International Business Professor Mohammad Elahee said. This means that the Pentagon can award more military contracts sooner rather than later.

Middleton, Connecticut Mayor Ben Florsheim noted that P &W workers whose jobs are funded by government contracts are keeping their jobs, but workers on the commercial side of production are not.

It’s not clear how many jobs are being cut at each of Pratt & Whitney’s three plants in Connecticut, but a total of about 450 salaried workers have been laid off and others are experiencing pay cuts and furloughs. Raytheon Technologies, its parent company, announced it is cutting 15,000 jobs in commercial aviation this year. To assure cost savings in the future when air travel resumes, about half of those jobs will not be restored, CEO Greg Hayes said. It is important then that the company seek lower production costs in a plant like the one to be built in South Asheville, according to Hayes.

A Not So Pretty Jobs Picture in AVL

What has P&W promised in regards to jobs at the Asheville plant?

A closer look at the Incentive Agreement between Pratt and Whitney and  Buncombe County shows that there is no GUARANTEE of jobs or even a certain number of jobs. The agreement is about incentives, not requirements. Furthermore, nothing in the agreement ensures that the jobs at the new plant are filled by local residents, nor anything about being an equal opportunity or affirmative action employer. Here is the language from the agreement – note the conditional phrasing in bold:

  • WHEREAS P&W desires to invest $530,000,000 in Buncombe County and create 750 new full-time project related jobs…
  • WHEREAS P&W may invest an additional $120,000,000 in Buncombe County and create an additional 50 new full time related jobs…
  • P&W will use good faith efforts to create seven hundred and fifty (750) full time project-related jobs on or before December 31, 2029.
  • P&W will use good faith efforts to retain five hundred and twenty five (525) full time project-related jobs for the job retention period (2030-2035)

Even in their good faith efforts, Pratt & Whitney is not expected to reach their actual jobs target of 750 jobs until 2029, eight years after they open. In the meantime, they will look to hire 250 jobs initially, in 2022 and add incrementally to reach the goal of 750. After that goal is hit, they only intend to retain 525 jobs. After the agreement reaches its end in 2035, they have no incentives to keep even that number of jobs. 

Built into the agreement are many escape hatches for the company, but none for the County. The $2.6 annual incentive grant from the County will be prorated if P&W doesn’t meet its jobs and direct investment goals for the year. It can also extend the expectations of the agreement for a year if goals are not met for that particular year. It can also pause the agreement for up to 5 years upon approval by the County.  A good deal for Pratt & Whitney. But for the people of the county?


Sources: Hartford Current,, New Haven Register, Pratt and Whitney-Buncombe County Incentive Agreement draft