Biltmore Farms CEO Jack Cecil, far left, and Pratt & Whitney’s Ken Field share a laugh just after the ribbon cutting of the company’s new $650 million plant in South Asheville. Gov. Roy Cooper, center, and N.C. Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, to his right, were among speakers // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

With attendance from Gov. Roy Cooper, numerous company officials and a slew of local politicians and business leaders, the mammoth 1.2 million-square-foot Pratt & Whitney plant held an opening ceremony Nov. 16 in South Asheville.

The $650 million plant, billed as “transformative” for the region, eventually will employ 800 people with an average annual salary of $68,400, company officials said. Cooper noted the plant is “the largest economic development project for western North Carolina in its history.”

Cooper also referenced North Carolina’s groundbreaking aviation history with the Wright brothers and its status of “First in Flight,” which came 119 years ago on the Outer Banks.

“Today we celebrate our growing and thriving aerospace and aviation industry with this western North Carolina ribbon cutting for Pratt & Whitney,” Cooper said. “And on top of being First in Flight, North Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the country, and we are proud of that.”

Cooper referenced the active duty military members in North Carolina, as well as 800,000 veterans who call the Tar Heel state  home.

The plant will manufacture high-tech jet engine airfoils, a component that goes deep inside a jet engine. Pratt & Whitney airfoils and engines provide power to a wide array of civilian and military aircraft, including the F-35 fighter jet.

A small group of protesters carried signs on the road leading to the new Pratt & Whitney plant on Wednesday, Nov. 16. The protesters are critical of Pratt & Whitney’s production of engines used in military aircraft, as well as its status as a subsidiary of defense contractor Raytheon // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

A group of about a dozen protesters carried signs on the road entering the plant that were critical of Pratt & Whitney and parent company Raytheon, because of their ties to the military. One placard read, “Windmills not war machines,” another “Pratt & Whitney fans the flames of climate emergency.”

The company noted during the ceremony that its airfoils help improve jet engine efficiency by up to 50 percent.

Cooper focused on the creation of jobs and Pratt & Whitney’s ties to the nation’s military.

“What is done here will make our nation safer and stronger,” Cooper said.

Dan Field, who heads up the Asheville operation, said production will begin in the middle of the second quarter of 2023.

The building is 1.2 million square feet // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Full production at the Asheville Pratt & Whitney plant will begin in the second quarter of 2023. It will produce airfoils for jet engines.

“Right now we’re just over 170 employees,” Field said after the ceremony. “We’ll have just over 200 by the end of the year. Approximately, 85 percent of the people we’ve hired are from the western North Carolina region.”

Full investment and staffing at the plant will continue into 2027.

“We committed to hiring here in western North Carolina,” Field said, “and we are delivering on that commitment.”

Could Pratt & Whitney be WNC’s BMW?

State Rep. Brian Turner (D-Buncombe) said after the ceremony that Pratt & Whitney locating here could well stimulate more economic development nearby.

“I think it only makes sense for suppliers and the supply chain to come here,” Turner said. “I think for many of us, we sort of envisioned this as, for lack of a better term, our BMW, where once BMW situated (in upstate South Carolina) it was sort of the mothership, and I think that’s what we’re going to see here — you’re going to have all these suppliers who want to relocate.”

The BMW automobile plant opened in South Carolina in the mid-1990s, spawning an economic boom for that region.

Biltmore Farms, the development company based in South Asheville, donated the 100–acre Pratt & Whitney site for the project. The company owns another 900 acres, and it’s all served by a new road and bridge across the French Broad River. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has a new I-26 interchange planned that will also serve the site.

“You drive down the (new) road, and you see curb cuts for other driveways,” Turner said. “I would expect to see more businesses coming.”

Jack Cecil, president and CEO of Biltmore Farms, declined to speculate on more manufacturers or commercial enterprises coming in, saying after the ceremony that for now he’s concentrating on “the dog having caught the tractor-trailer.” 

Jack Cecil, president and CEO of Biltmore Farms development company, said the new Pratt & Whitney plant represents a “transformative” step for western North Carolina // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

While the mountain region has seen some resurgence in manufacturing, Cecil said in a speech during the ceremony that he had pestered Gov. Cooper for years, telling him, “We need to recruit a transformative project to western North Carolina.”

Cecil said he feels strongly that Pratt & Whitney will be that project, as it will spur the economy and help create a workforce of highly trained locals. He said the efforts to land Pratt & Whitney go back three and a half years and involved scores of economic development officials, local business leaders, politicians and others.

“You know that saying, ‘It takes a village’?” Cecil asked the crowd. “This took an enormous village.”

Clarke Duncan, executive director of the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville & Buncombe County, said he’s “very hopeful” Pratt & Whitney’s location here will serve as a catalyst for other companies to locate here. He noted that economic development comprises two main components.

“There’s talented people, and you have to have sites to attract the quality of job you want,” Duncan said. “So yeah, when I look at 900 acres, I get very excited about what the economic impact and the use of those acres could be.”

Strong market for the Asheville product

Field noted that more than 85,000 Pratt & Whitney engines are in service around the globe, and “our engines power nearly every type of aircraft that you can think of, from commercial and military jets to turboprops taking us from place to place.”

Shane Eddy, president of Pratt & Whitney, told the audience the company builds engines that “defend freedom and connect families and, quite honestly, that’s a purpose that we hold dear — and I think that’s a purpose that’s never been more important than it is today.”

The Asheville plant will allow airfoils to be built from start to finish in one facility, while traveling less than one mile. Currently, Pratt & Whitney airfoils require some 2,500 miles of shuttling between company plants.

Pratt & Whitney jet engines power a wide array of civilian and military aircraft // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego

Eddy mentioned that airfoils do power Pratt & Whitney’s F-135 engine, the power plant for the American F-35 Lightning fighter jet. Demand remains strong for that engine, and others that Pratt & Whitney produces, and that bodes well for the Asheville facility.

“Turbine airfoils are one of the highest volume parts in the gas turbine engine, and we see demand for our engines and for our turbine airfoils that we’re going to produce here growing by over 50 percent in the next few years,” Eddy said. “That’s why this facility is so critical.”

Manufacturing remains strong in NC

N.C. Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said the new Pratt & Whitney plant in South Asheville is another indication that manufacturing is alive and well in North Carolina.

“Manufacturing is the heartbeat of our economy, and this plant surely has that heartbeat,” Sanders said. “As it comes online, we will add even more strength to the heartbeat of our state in the manufacturing sector.”

Manufacturing, Sanders said, represents almost 20 percent of North Carolina’s economic output. “That’s $122 billion into our economy,” she said.

North Carolina is the fifth-largest manufacturing state in the nation and number one in the Southeast, Sanders said, noting that nearly 46,000 people in North Carolina work in manufacturing.

“Over the past five years this number has been growing, and we are expecting it will continue to grow,” she said.



Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle is an award-winning reporter who has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at jboyle@avlwatchdog.org.

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17 Comments

  1. Not to be supercritical, because this is really good news for western North Carolina.

    Raytheon Technologies (RTX), Pratt & Whitney’s parent company, reported $3.9 billion in net income in 2021. I understand NC taxpayers shelling out for a new I-26 interchange between Brevard Road and Long Shoals Road which will serve the facility. But the article does not mention other taxpayer funded incentives. If there were none, that’s even better – a testament to the attractiveness of the are to companies like Pratt & Whitney. But we taxpayers ought to know exactly how much capital we are providing to this very profitable company to expand their operations.

  2. The previous comment brings up an important point….transparency. Many people and entities were involved in bringing Pratt and Whitney here, but glaringly left out was the citizenry whose taxes were used to provide incentives to seal the deal, with our county commissioners having to sign non-disclosure agreements. There is growing awareness of how such ‘secret deals’ don’t actually provide the benefits they claim and how local communities’ environments and economies could be better enhanced by a more transparent process: https://bansecretdeals.org/

  3. Such a thoroughly lengthy article giving praise to all who were responsible for putting out the welcome mat for Pratt & Whitney. It only cost our state, region and county a hundred million dollars. Seems all we’re good for now as a country is to build and export weapons of mass destruction and the refining of the fossil fuels to power them. May our Creator restore our sanity soon and forgive us the deaths such manufactured items made here in a new sanitized building cause, even though it is green.

  4. The deal to bring Pratt & Whitney here was done in secret, with our elected county commissioners signing nondisclosure agreements while they and state gov’t committed almost $100M in subsidies and incentives to this $20B corporation, during a pandemic when residents lost their jobs, homes, even lives. Those who like this deal and are OK with the lack of transparency many not feel so when the next deal is negotiated behind closed doors. This is a nationwide issued. https://youtu.be/Q6XaxetKzsM

  5. “The $27 million incentives package signed between Raytheon and Buncombe County, structured as grants given to the company if it makes “good faith efforts” to meet job creation and investment targets, is the largest such deal the county has signed in a decade, according to a detailed list of incentive agreements the county government provided Responsible Statecraft and Facing South. The Pratt & Whitney deal represents 42 percent of all funds committed by the county to incentivize projects in that period. “
    — “Honk for humane jobs’: NC activists challenge subsidies for weapons maker.”By Taylor Barnes. July 21, 2021. https://www.facingsouth.org/2021/07/honk-humane-jobs-nc-activists-challenge-subsidies-weapons-maker

  6. The news article sounds good. I did not see any plans the state has for the already overcrowded roads in this area.. with the already multi apartments complexes built on Long Shoals Rd., (191 ) Brevard Rd. Clayton Rd., Glen Bridge Rd. in the planning stage plus numerous housing developments. Widening roads are a traffic nightmare which take years to complete.. please tell residents living in this area that plans are already in the immediate stage of assignment .. is Jack Cecil ,as Biltmore Company and Pratt Whitney , or in fact any developer, paying to get road improvement..

  7. Those who have celebrated this war machine factory must have a death wish. The factory itself will have 8 – yes 8 – gas furnaces fed by Dominion’s new pipeline. The furnaces and pipeline will contribute mightily to climate wrecking green house gases which have already resulted in catastrophic deadly flooding and wildfires fires all over the world. Some of the engines inadequate here will go to the US Military which is the largest institutional producer of green house gases in the world – producing more than entire countries. Also, the F-35 has been involved in war crimes in the Middle East. It is a sad day when Asheville and North Carolina prostrate themselves under the heels of the war machine. LET’S MAKE WINDMILLS NOT WAR MACHINES.

  8. I thought 100 acres of forested land being cleared, along the French Broad River, for this plant to be built was ALOT!! A few people at the ribbon-cutting were pretty excited about the 900 acres for additional manufacturing enticements. Wonder how many of those acres are wilderness? and wouldn’t re-purposing vacant properties and already cleared lots be wiser?

  9. The only word I can conjure, after seeing the expansive, near finished Pratt & Whitney plant and getting a glimpse of the inside from the pictures in your article, is surreal. This is especially true when the news about the new plant is juxtaposed with news coming out of COP27. I can’t help but wonder what world the dignitaries that gathered on Tuesday live in. The world is in chaos because of climate emergency and arming the world exacerbates the emergency. Just this week a report came out that 90% of US counties have seen federally-recognized climate emergencies over the last decade. We of course know this in Western North Carolina. More importantly, people all over the world are migrating from places (think, Pakistan) that are affected by climate or war events. The speakers at the opening event for Pratt and Whitney were so congratulatory about how the plant furthers economic development in WNC and how Raytheon will contribute to the area. Please. Let’s be honest, Raytheon and its subsidiaries, like Pratt & Whitney, are contributing to the climate emergency through their industry of arming the world. Their sustainability goals are useless and laughable in light of how much their industry contributes to greenhouse gases. The F-35s, one of the fighter jets for which Pratt & Whitney provides engines, are built to be used for 30 years. Each of the 750 F-35 in service in the world today uses 1478 gallons of fuel/hour. Their fuel use alone will only exacerbate our climate emergency, not mitigate it.
    This new, shiny and expansive factory is wrong-headed from the start. It reeks of our hubris as a first world country; it reeks of American exceptionalism. State and local officials can congratulate themselves for landing this monstrosity while the rest of world struggles to survive the effects of climate chaos.

    1. Meanwhile, after the head of the Golden Leaf Foundation spoke at the event, he visited Haywood County, which experienced devastating floods there last year (perhaps an example of extreme weather brought on by climate disruption). He mentioned that his foundation would give up to $250,000 per project to help the region recover. The five lane bridge built across the French Broad for Biltmore Farms and P & W got 48 times more funding from Golden Leaf for one project, even though both recipients are exceedingly wealthy. Where are our priorities in NC and Buncombe County, the later of which has offered $27 million in incentives to Raytheon? And elected officials, just who do you represent when at your public hearing on your incentives had more than twenty some constituents against and only one in favor? These examples are only the icing on this gigantic Queen Antionette cake of bribes our local, state and regional leaders used to get this company here. You should all be ashamed.

  10. I thank all’s well people deserve all that ,,P&W has to offer good outweighs the bad we will be a better place all around David David thank you P&W!!!

  11. We need to learn the unfortunate fact that the world’s richest countries continue to build and export arms to the most climate disaster vulnerable places in the world, that an accelerated arms race is the opposite of climate justice and mitigating the worsening effects of climate change. Tragically, the Pratt and Whitney plant that is so highly touted by our economic and political elite is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The F-35 plane mentioned in this article uses 5,600 litres of gas per hour. We can’t have our cake and eat it too when it comes to human survival on a liveable planet and continuing to live in a fossil fuel based, militarized paradigm. Locally, we need to look at an economy that supports a serious transition away from the use of fossil fuels. The knowledge, skills and people exist to do this but alas, the old ways of thinking and the fossil fuel industry continue to prevail…what better ways could the $100million in incentives been used to support our community economically and environmentally? https://www.tni.org/en/publication/climate-collateral

  12. Try again Asheville Watchdog. a small nod to the few protesters, and then a glam piece on P$W. note other comments about concerns about environment, cost of the further possible developments(degradation of environment, congestion,etc) . Do better next time to balance your report.

  13. A good and fair review of the new P&W plant and how it got to Buncombe County. As Sgt. Friday apparently said “just the facts, just the facts”. Your readership can decide what is correct and incorrect in Watchdog articles. As one of your current readers, I don’t want to be led in any direction, I just want — “the facts”.

    Also, Watchdog should consider shutting-off comments to its articles. Not doing so, I fear, Watchdog will become another Asheville Citizen-Times, where some readers use your comment section for their personal venting and town crier soapboxes.

    Watchdog can still solicit reader feedback comments about its articles, and then react as appropriate to the comments. Just don’t publish them and therefore give free soapboxes to readers.

  14. What’s to celebrate in Buncombe County versus some other community ‘‘winning’ of this destructive corporate presence by a ‘sneak-attack’ recruitment that not only forces others to subsidize war-profiteering and climate-destruction, but richly rewards the wealthiest land baron in the county (Jack Cecil/ Biltmore Farms.)
    The promise of the I-26 exit was highly irregular but surely will enrich Cecil and company while leaving Buncombe less livable and affordable for the non-wealthy.
    The only thing that could redeem this would be Buncombe becoming pioneers in more accountable and transparent economic development that penalizes instead of rewarding destructive manufacturing, especially weapons exports by ‘double-dipping’ war-profiteers like Raytheon. They owe the world big-time damages and should be bankrupted. Current workers can be employed in fields (ie wind and tide turbines, and cleaner transportation) that can save instead of destroying the planet.

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