KINSTON, N.C. (AP) -- After years of frustration waiting for the promise of the Global TransPark to pay off, there's finally some hope the much ballyhooed effort to fire up the economy of eastern North Carolina isn't fated to remain a boondoggle.
It only took 17 years.
''Today, we start to silence all of these naysayers over the years who have been heckling from the sidelines,'' Gov. Mike Easley said. ''Today, the Global TransPark is the best thing we've got going in North Carolina.''
Easley was in a triumphant mood Wednesday as the state announced aircraft parts supplier Spirit AeroSystems had agreed to hire 1,031 workers over five years at a new facility to be built at the state-owned industrial park. The TransPark has received more than $80 million in state and federal funds since it was created in 1991, but has until now failed to attract an anchor tenant.
''This is a region-altering project. This is the anchor we've been waiting for,'' said Rick Holder, a Kinston native and businessman. ''These are clean, well-paying jobs. People will drive 50 to 60 miles one-way for these jobs.''
They won't come cheap. North Carolina is giving Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit a massive incentive package worth more than $125 million to locate at the TransPark. It includes a $5 million grant and more than $20 million, payable over 12 years, tied to the creation of jobs at the plant.
The Golden Leaf Foundation, a nonprofit charged with overseeing the state's share of tobacco-settlement money, will also spend $100 million to build the company's first new building, which the state will own and Spirit will occupy. Spirit will pay rent, but the lease rate has yet to be set. The company also committed to spending $100 million on additional facilities over the next six years.
Spirit General Manager John Lewelling insisted Wednesday the incentives weren't the deciding factor in locating in Kinston, but rather amenities of the TransPark. They include an 11,500-foot runway and more than 2,000 acres of available land, as well as a training center that can be used for meetings and classes. There are also rail lines leading from the park to the state ports in Morehead City and Wilmington.
Those amenities had failed since the TransPark's founding to attract a major tenant to a project that was envisioned as the engine that would drive a rebound of the region's shriveling farm economy.
In 1998, FedEx Corp. decided to build a cargo hub in Greensboro instead of the TransPark, citing the poor roads in and out of the Kinston area. In 2004, Boeing passed up a $534 million package of incentives to locate a plant to make fuselage sections for its new 787 jet. The next year, the TransPark failed to make the final list of sites for a potential Airbus military air tanker plant.
Only about 365 people currently work at the TransPark among its 12 tenants, which include state agencies, an aircraft sales and charter firm, an air cargo and maintenance company, a logistics firm that operates the TransPark's foreign trade zone and a pilot training company.
Spirit will nearly triple the workforce at the TransPark with jobs that will pay an average of $48,122 annually, compared with the average yearly wage of $27,042 in Lenoir County.
''It's going to help New Bern. It's going to help Greenville. It's going to help Snow Hill,'' said Felix Harvey, a businessman and farmer from the area who has raised millions of dollars in private funds to help prod the development.
By 2010, Spirit plans to be building fuselages panels for the Airbus A350 at the TransPark under a contract worth up to $3 billion with the European aircraft maker.
A spinoff from Boeing Co., Spirit had nearly $4 billion in revenues last year and bills itself as the world's largest supplier of commercial airplane assemblies and components for clients that include Airbus, Gulfstream and Cessna. It has about 14,000 employees at plants in Kansas, Oklahoma, Scotland and England, and it also plans to build a plant in Malaysia next year.
Lewelling said he didn't understand the emotional significance of Spirit's decision to locate at the TransPark until Easley and others began to deliver what amounted to victory speeches on Wednesday. Among them was state Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, who compared selling the TransPark to selling a large house with a stable on a large lot.
''You just have to find the right buyer,'' he said.
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this story from Raleigh.