The incentives are in place

by Brian Clarey


Honda Aircraft Co. and its CEO, Michimasa Fujino, are to be congratulated on their presumed contemplation of an expansion at their corporate headquarters at Piedmont Triad International Airport. The company is gearing up to assemble light jets as personal transport vehicles for the wealthy and powerful. Honda Aero and GE Aviation is ramping up production of engines in Burlington to power the jets. It only makes sense that Honda Aircraft would locate parts production and distribution, along with a service center at PTI.

And why not? The airport is underutilized, GTCC is building a campus to train workers in the aviation field, the cost of living is low and the climate is generally amenable. Not to mention that nearby Greensboro boasts excellent parks, respectable theater and a decent arts scene. It’s easy to make it a punch line, but Greensboro is a great place to raise a family.

Inevitably, elected officials and economic development leaders are speaking about Honda Aircraft’s expansion —rumored, considering that the company hasn’t even acknowledged any plans in response to press inquiries — in breathless and halting tones. And inevitably the catch comes down to financial incentives: Up to about $1.3 million combined from taxpayers in Greensboro and Guilford County, broken up in increments of $523,000 and $775,000 respectively.

Candidates for public office typically pledge to make job creation and expansion of the local tax base their priorities. And rightly so. But handing out public money to corporations that presumably have ample access to private capital doesn’t make sense.

One can imagine that Honda Aircraft’s corporate leaders discretely made their request to Dan Lynch, who, as president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance, serves as intermediary. Members of the Greensboro City Council and Guilford County Commission are likely hearing from Lynch that they risk losing a major jobs creator — and there are up to 419 positions in play — if they don’t play ball.

In fact, elected officials should spend more time thinking about how to create jobs. Expanding roadways, and water and sewer utilities are a time-tested method. Investments in parks, greenways and public transit and anything else that enhances quality of life makes sense. Matching grants to spruce up inner-city shopping centers such as those authorized by the Winston-Salem City Council — a great idea. Low-interest, subsidized loans to help small businesses get started — fine. But in this instance, incentives represent a waste of public money and abject capitulation to corporate power.

As Commissioner Billy Yow told YES! Weekly, “They’ve already invested $70 million at the airport. They’ve already invested in Burlington to build engines. It would make sense that they would expand here. Common sense would tell you that they’re going to come here.”

For Greensboro, it makes even less sense to support this incentives request. Honda Aircraft’s operation is on airport property, so it will pay no property taxes to the city.

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