Region nearly landed Honda jet engine plant, NETWORKS says

Rick Wagner • Aug 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Fishermen aren’t the only ones who tell stories about the one that got away.

A local economic developer does, too, but he says the near success was educational and a good sign of catches to come.

Sullivan County and Tri-Cities Regional Airport almost landed a $50 million, 40-acre jet engine manufacturing facility that would have employed 70 people.

“We just feel good about being number two for that project,” NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership CEO Richard Venable said during the regular NETWORKS luncheon meeting Thursday at Northeast State Technical Community College.

Although the Honda Aero Inc. manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters instead went to Burlington, N.C., Venable said going through the process was an educational experience.

“Oftentimes you learn more from what you didn’t get than what you did get,” said Keith Wilson, newly elected vice chairman of the NETWORKS board and publisher of the Kingsport Times-News.

Airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson, no relation to Keith Wilson, said the HondaJet interest confirms how visionary the Airport Commission has been over the last decade in developing the south side Air Cargo Center and getting utilities to airport land available for development in that area.

The jet planes to use the engines will be produced in Greensboro, N.C. The Burlington plant will build jet engines for HondaJet and Spectrum Aeronautical’s Freedom.

Venable said making the final two locations under consideration for manufacturing the jet engines shows that NETWORKS can compete successfully for such facilities in the future. He said the proposals showcased the airport and Northeast State Technical Community College.

“There is no substitute for winning,” Venable said in a news release given out at the meeting. “We want the world to know what HondaJet discovered, which was that our Tri-Cities Regional Airport has the facilities and Northeast Tennessee has the people to gain serious consideration by a giant worldwide corporation such as Honda.”

Venable at the meeting and in the release explained that HondaJet officials first met with NETWORKS officials in September 2006, three days before he formally joined NETWORKS.

Venable said the officials, not identified as HondaJet, were impressed during the initial visit and that TCRA was among five initially under consideration.

The airport, NETWORKS and the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development worked on a proposal for the facility on TCRA property and ultimately presented three different options.

Shortly after being told the proposal might need to be revamped, Venable said the announcement came from North Carolina.

“We have found the region and the state to be great places to do business,” Honda representative Anthony Piazza wrote in a letter to NETWORKS. “We sincerely appreciate the sense of professionalism and the excellent site shown to us, which demonstrate that your community is a strong player in attracting a project of this nature. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you again in the future.”

In other matters, NETWORKS members present unanimously approved the Nominating Committee’s recommendation to make Mitch Walters the new NETWORKS chairman.

It voted to appoint Keith Wilson vice chairman, which was Walters’ old position, and re-elected Northeast State President Bill Locke as secretary-treasurer.

Keith Wilson presented immediate past Chairman Larry Estepp a plaque in recognition for his three years of service to NETWORKS, including his term as chairman. Estepp remains on the board.

For more information visit www.networkstn.com.

Recommended for You

    Kingsport Times News Videos