Establishing a Successful Industrial Park
Despite a rocky start, the North Carolina Global TransPark (GTP), a state managed and financed multi-modal transportation park, is thriving today. Conceived 20 years ago as an aviation-centered global assembly and distribution point, the 2,400-acre business park, located in the state’s southeastern quadrant near Kinston, encountered its share of problems before landing its first significant tenant, Spirit AeroSystems, a Wichita, Kansas-based aircraft structures supplier.
The secret to the GTP’s success lies in the valuable lessons its organizers learned during their efforts to establish the park—lessons that can provide insight for states, municipalities, and other business park developers, as well as potential tenants such as manufacturers and warehouse/DC operators.
LESSON 1: BEWARE THE HYPE
When the GTP site was selected in the early 1990s, highly inflated claims were made about its potential job creation and economic impact. One planning document estimated creating 50,000 jobs within the first five to 10 years.
Those unrealistic figures made it easy for opponents to ridicule the idea of creating an economic engine for eastern North Carolina by establishing a global logistics hub in a rural region.
LESSON 2: BUILD A STRONG FOUNDATION
Don’t swing for the fences until you warm up. The GTP had two near-hits: the FedEx hub that eventually went to Greensboro, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner production facility, which stayed in Washington. In both cases, the GTP team made a solid effort, but the park simply didn’t have the infrastructure FedEx and Boeing sought.
The GTP looked just right to three other tenants, however. The park’s fixed base operator, Segrave Aviation, has grown into a national charter/avionics service. Engineering firm Spatial Integrated Systems and Commerce Overseas Corp., a supply chain solutions provider for military aircraft customers, have also taken off. While these firms employ only a few hundred people, their location at the GTP has established an aviation base upon which to build.
These firms also established a simple but critical fact: that companies could succeed in the GTP. When the park’s organizers started discussions in late 2006 with Spirit AeroSystems, its physical infrastructure was solidly in place. The GTP also had experience putting together the kind of training packages that would enable Spirit to find capable workers across the region.
True, it took the GTP 15 years to land its first major tenant. But it took the state’s other business park success, Research Triangle Park (RTP), 15 years to land its first anchor, IBM. Who can say where the GTP will be when it, like RTP, reaches its 50th birthday?
LESSON 3: CREATE SOLID PARTNERSHIPS
The GTP’s early years were fraught with confusion—and at times, hostility—about the roles the region’s various development institutions would play in establishing the park. Each competed for funding or favor with state and national governments or other institutions. None of these development institutions realized their full potential in pulling eastern North Carolina up by its bootstraps until cooperation triumphed over confrontation.
And never overlook the importance of local and state government. Without the involvement and commitment of North Carolina’s departments of commerce and transportation, its community college system, and the Golden LEAF Foundation, the GTP could not have brought Spirit to North Carolina.
Organizers expect Spirit’s presence to solidify the GTP’s growing niche as an aerospace hub, and that other players will join in building new facilities and connections to this global industry.