About a dozen protesters with Reject Raytheon AVL gathered outside the new Pratt & Whitney plant in South Asheville Nov. 16 to voice their complaints with the company. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

I stand before you duly chastised.

OK, actually I’m sitting down, but you get the point.

In reporting on the Pratt & Whitney plant ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 16, I gave short shrift to a group of protesters with Reject Raytheon AVL who had gathered outside the gargantuan new jet engine parts plant in South Asheville. I did stop to snap a photo of them, and included a paragraph in the story about their presence. 

But I could’ve done more, even though I was on deadline to get the story written that day. Yes, Asheville has about as many protesters as residents, and you can’t cover all of them all of the time, but in this case, I should’ve included their voice.

I planned on interviewing some of the 12 protesters after the ribbon-cutting ceremony inside the plant, but it dragged on for a couple of hours, and by the time I left the protesters had too.

They were protesting outside, at a traffic circle, by the way, not inside the building.

So I caught some well-deserved grief online about the article being a little too cheerleaderish about Pratt & Whitney locating here.

Huge Investment, Huge Subsidies

To be fair to myself, it’s not only a gargantuan plant, it’s an enormous investment — $650 million — that the company says will create 800 jobs by 2027, with an average annual salary of $68,400. That will create a huge boost for local workers, so yeah, it’s a big deal.

Gov. Roy Cooper spoke at the event, along with high-ranking Pratt & Whitney officials, and officials from their parent company, the defense contractor Raytheon Technologies.

Overall, I do think it was appropriate to concentrate on the event, which drew a few hundred people, and not the 12 protesters outside. But again, I should’ve included at least a quote or two.

The protesters raise fair points not only about these companies and the United States’ astronomical spending on the military, but also about all of the tax incentives that went into drawing Pratt & Whitney to Asheville. Those subsidies, including a $27 million incentive package from Buncombe County, total nearly $100 million and include a new highway interchange off I-26 and a new bridge leading to the site off Brevard Road.

This deal, in the works for three years, also took place almost entirely in secret. Companies looking to locate here often require officials to sign non-disclosure agreements, and that further keeps the process hidden from public view.

As a reporter, that drives me nuts, and it raises the ire of groups like Reject Raytheon AVL, too.

“We didn’t know until 18 months down the line this whole thing was happening, and by that time it was a done deal,” Ken Jones, one of the protesters, told me in a Nov. 23 interview, noting he was not speaking on behalf of Reject Raytheon AVL.

Biltmore Farms, the development company that gifted Pratt & Whitney the 100-acre site it built its 1.2-million square foot production facility on, has another 900 acres nearby, which seem primed for more development. Economic officials say landing a big fish like Pratt & Whitney could well draw more companies.

Seeking a Moratorium

Jones said Reject Raytheon AVL is now calling for a moratorium on anything going into those 900 acres that’s a “fossil fuel corporation” or enterprises that contribute to global warming, “like jet engines or even commercial airplanes.” They also do not want more defense contractors or subsidiaries, which Jones, a retired education professor, refers to as “war corporations.”

“You can use those 900 acres for economic development, but don’t use it in that way,” he said. “That’s what we’re saying now that Pratt & Whitney is a done deal.”

Raytheon bought Pratt & Whitney, an aircraft engine manufacturer, in 2020. Pratt & Whitney maintains that more than half of its engines go to civilian aircraft, but it is proud of providing engines for the American F-35 jet fighter plane – and the company’s overall connection to the military.

“We build 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,” Shane Eddy, president of Pratt & Whitney, said at the event. 

Once in production next year, the Asheville plant will produce jet turbine airfoils, fan blades that go deep inside a jet engine. 

Jones said Pratt & Whitney’s connection to Raytheon is deeply troubling, even if more than half of its engines go to civilian aircraft.

“We consider them war profiteers,” Jones said of Raytheon. “They make every conceivable thing about warfare, from missiles to bombs to radar to everything else.”

Protesters gathered outside Pratt & Whitney on Nov. 16 carrying placards criticizing the company and its parent, military contractor Raytheon Technologies // Photo by Pamela Mumby

Raytheon, Jones said, is notorious for arming Saudi Arabia, which has attacked civilians in a long-running military action in Yemen, and the company’s weapons have been used in numerous other conflicts around the globe.

“These jet fighters not only are the most horrendous users of jet fuel, talking about a climate emergency, but they’re killers,” Jones said.

Protesters Prefer Climate-Friendly Companies

Jones and other protesters have deep concerns about the climate emergency, and companies like Pratt & Whitney whose products contribute to climate change.

They would like to see economic development officials, Biltmore Farms CEO Jack Cecil, and local politicians put their efforts into enticing climate-friendly companies to the area.

“The amount of money going into really a war machine and an industry that contributes so terribly to the climate emergency is not only not needed, it’s dangerous,” Jones said. “That’s the source of our disagreement.”

I will note that Neil Mitchell, chief financial officer of Raytheon, did come out of the gate with a gaffe at the ribbon cutting ceremony. A previous speaker had noted that when company officials met with Jack Cecil on the site a couple of years ago, it was untouched.

“When I was here that day with Jack, I couldn’t believe he was going to let us cut all these trees down,” Mitchell said, generating some nervous laughter in the audience. “But I think what we put here is really going to benefit this community for decades to come, so I’m really proud of it.”

While Jones stresses that he’s empathetic to the need for jobs for local folks, he and Reject Raytheon AVL also maintain that more jobs could have been created by incentivizing non-military companies.

“For an equal amount of money put into health, education, infrastructure, clean energy, you get more jobs,” Jones said. “Now, the degree to which there is an equal amount of pay is debatable.”

But overall, Jones said, he considers the Pratt & Whitney deal not only a bad investment but “to our view an irresponsible choice to feed the climate emergency and to feed the American war machine,” Jones said.

Playing devil’s advocate

Now, I know some folks are certainly going to take issue with Jones’ opinions and those of Reject Raytheon AVL.

Personally, I think we simply have to have weapons of war to keep our country secure in a very dangerous world, although I think we spend way too much money on military equipment and operations and not enough on health coverage. 

And, like it or not, North Carolina and Buncombe County have to pony up huge incentives to land a big company like Pratt & Whitney, because if they don’t the companies will go to South Carolina or other states, and our economy will fall even further behind.

Playing a bit of devil’s advocate, I asked Jones if he believes America should even have weapons of war, if there’s a need in our world for jet fighters.

“You know, ideally we’d love to see disarmament around the world,” Jones said.

But he added that’s really not the right question to be asking, in part “because almost every county has a military, right?”

“The question to me is, ‘Have we gone overboard with our military?” Jones said. “And the answer is, ‘Absolutely yes. Not only the percentage of our budget devoted to it — over 50 percent of the discretionary federal budget — but (we have) 800 bases around the world. Look at the endless string of wars we’ve caused, Afghanistan and Iraq and Serbia and on and on.”

The United States, in fiscal year 2021, spent $801 billion on its military. The next nine countries, which include China, Russia, and the United Kingdom, spent $777 billion combined, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The foundation cited figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. 

“We have a military that is not defensive,” Jones said. “It’s an imperialist military.”

We can all argue that point, and the others Jones raises. The point here is when we’re luring big fish like Pratt & Whitney, the public has a right to know what they’re paying for. The process needs to be more transparent, and the tax dollars spent with the utmost care.

And reporters like me need to go the extra mile to include dissenting voices.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle 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.

25 replies on “Yes, I gave Pratt & Whitney protesters short shrift”

  1. The math on these incentive packages never seems to work. Eight hundred new jobs at a cost of $100 million? You could eliminate the middleman and give 800 people a million bucks and save $20 million.
    Then, you could do something else with that land.

    I remember all the proclamations of glory when BMW announced they were building a plant outside Spartanburg. The streets would be paved with gold. Flash forward a decade and unemployment went up as half the unemployed auto workers (with experience on their resume) moved to South Carolina to take those jobs. It wasn’t the economic miracle they had predicted…and BMW wasn’t in the death business.

  2. Thank you for presenting a different viewpoint on the Pratt and Whitney plant, what it does, how it got here and what it took to get it here. Perhaps our thinking can be extended to consider what ‘real security’ is in this challenging time…more weapons building and threats of violent conflict? more clearcutting of our natural world to build the factories that build those weapons? More fossil fuel based transportation methods? Or is it a society that faces the dangerous direction we are currently headed and puts its resources into preserving our natural environment, addressing the real needs for people of health care, quality education, decent housing, good jobs in transformative businesses and industries…is it easier to see our decline and disappearance as a species than it is to see what changes we can and should make both individually and collectively? (or are the economic and political elite are too used to making money ‘the old fashioned way” and pushing it down our throats?) If Asheville and Buncombe County are serious about being ‘visionary’ in terms of supporting the development of a ‘greener’ and more localized economy, they will not solicit the likes of more Raytheon related industry to our area.

  3. A 1500-word article about 12 protestors who want world peace: surely the Watchdog’s first paid journalist has something better to do.

    1. Seems that centuries ago, during the times of the Roman Empire there were also 12 brave voices speaking out for pacem en terra. It’s not numbers that determine rightness.

  4. Thanks John. One of the issues that’s never covered is any commitment to minority hiring. When taxpayers pay for companies like this to locate here, they should be required to provide employment opportunities for people of color. With the city’s and county’s commitment to reparations it seems like this is part of the racial and economic diversity lens that is sorely missing. New Belgium got away with this even though they are within walking distance of several majority African American neighborhoods. It would be worth an investigation to see how many people of color work at businesses benefitting from tax dollars and measure that against public statements about inclusion. These are good jobs with benefits. There should be measurable goals for targeted hiring and making good on political promises.

    1. Gee, that $30M needed to upgrade McCormick Field and keep the Tourists here looks pretty small when compared to the $100M in local and state funds spent to bring Pratt & Whitney, worth $20B, here. Thank you, John! If you are ever so inclined to so some follow-up at some point, may I offer the following? As previously stated in these comments, I, too, have concerns about minority hiring by Pratt & Whitney. Is there a mechanism in place to monitor that? If so, can we hear more about that? And what about clean up when Pratt & Whitney leaves the area, as they will? What is their record on environmental clean-up for closed facilities and their environs? And last, but certainly not least: Maybe next up at bat for Watchdog reporting is the seemingly increased use of nondisclosure agreements by local elected officials when wheeling and dealing with our tax dollars? That one get juicer every day! Again, thank you!

  5. Thank you for setting record straight. We at Reject Raytheon AVL think that we represent what most people in our county and state want. Respect for our endangered environment and jobs that we can be proud of, that bring about a just and peaceful world through nonviolent means.

  6. Informative report. I comprehend the anti war sentiment. But, without our war and equipment heratidge, would we be able to have this debate?

  7. We appreciate the mea culpa, John. These non-disclosure agreements and the elected representatives who sign them are complicit in the escalating erosion of Democracy. The Raytheon/Pratt-Whitney plant they conspired in secret to support will contribute to the fossil-fueled industries that are killing the planet. The jobs thus provided are not a right livelihood regardless of how much they pay.

    1. “conspired in secrecy”? Companies pit communities against each other to “win” them. I don’t think we can blame our elected representatives for lack of transparency. But I do think we can BLAME the process that enables corporations to make communities do it. If I had my druthers, companies would face the SAME taxes and “indulgences” from every community in every state. But that’s not how we do things here in the greatest nation in the world with State sponsored “capitalism”.

  8. quote: “Personally, I think we simply have to have weapons of war to keep our country secure in a very dangerous world”

    F-35s are being outfitted by Italy to carry nuclear bombs. F-35s have been used by Israel to bomb Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria in 2022.

    I wish someone would explain to me how these sales are keeping our country “secure”. I just don’t see it.

    I agree with the writer on how awful the secret deals are – in a democracy, you should have no reason to have secret deals unless you are doing something shady or really unpopular.

    I hope the Watchdog follows up with how many people are employed at this plant, and how many of them are from the local area and not transplants from former Pratt & Whitney plants that have recently closed.

    And I hope they take a look at the typical salary at the plant – not the ‘average’ one. You can pay one person $1,000,000 a year and nine other people $30,000 a year and have an average salary of $127,000 per year.

    Overall, you did a good job of presenting what the protesters are all about. We are spending way too much money on MIC corporations and the military itself. And, since we sell to so many overseas countries, our MIC corporations are making record profits while they are not improving the world or helping stop the climate chaos at all.

  9. Here’s the thing: “average” pay numbers mean *nothing.* The real figure to identify is MEDIAN pay. Because a handful of top executives making 6 or 7 figures skews the average in a serious way.

    And how many of those “high-paying” new jobs will go to locals, as opposed to P-W workers who relocate here, putting further pressure on our housing market?

    Ask more, please.

    1. Correct Susan and Nina. 800 X $68,400 gives a salary kitty of $54,720,000. Take the top, 60 of them making, oh, what, $250K average? ($15,000,000 for those top 60) which leaves $39,720,000 to be divided by the 740 remaining employees brings it down to $53,676 a far cry from the $68,400 hailed and implied as the average salary. It’s not rocket science, just do the math Buncombe Co. who gave such a gift to P&W and Raytheon

  10. I’m glad to see this article, mea culpa, and readers’ reactions (including those of folks I know).

    Now, I have no dog on this fight, and very mixed opinions about the value of having this plant in Asheville–jobs and other economic benefits, the bloated military budget, opportunities for minority employment, additional development of the site down the road, the very real need to defend our country from very real aggressors, etc. I do wonder how to reconcile my own anti-military-industrial-complex views with my sense of realpolitik.

    This is a world where Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine both to fulfill his pathetic dreams of a new Russian Federation a la Soviet Union but also to challenge the entire western mutual security system (NATO) that has kept the peace since the end of World War II. I support giving every armament and system we have to defend Ukraine — and similarly to maintain our support of Taiwan in the face of Xi’s Chinese aggression and vision of world hegemony; and to ensure that Kim does not dare try to intimidate our allies in S. Korea, Japan, and elsewhere.

    So, if we’re not to be the world’s policeman, who will? Can we maintain that role, and the relative peace in the world that has been achieved after the world-war century, without building plants of this sort?

    When I went to Columbia in 1970, these were weighty issues in the midst of the Vietnam War; they still are today, and deserve full discussion rather than bumper-sticker reactions.

    So, thank you for giving a more nuanced report on both the protesters and the plant and its developers. I myself would like to see even more in-depth discussion from many viewpoints about an issue that isn’t simple pro-con, black v. white, or good and evil.

  11. Nice follow-up, to a degree. Jobs and economic projections seem to ALWAYS underestimate jobs and overestimate economic benefits. I am far more concerned about the negative environmental impact. I have read nothing about where the power will come from to th the plant — there’s an awful lot of rooftop space for solar panels (especially after all those trees were clear cut from the site) rather than relying on Duke Energy’s fossil fuel heavy plans we expect in their plan coming next month. This on top of all the fossil fuel carbon waste their war machines spew. Disgusting.

  12. And now please make a promise to continue to follow up – to hold accountable the elected officials who did the deal. I want to know… even if it is 2 or 3 years from now… did we get the jobs? Was it “worth it” to build them a ramp. Net all, was it a win-win or a win-lose or a draw?

  13. While I applaud this article looking at the other side of this story and its revelations about the secretive way in which the deal was made, I must take issue with some what Mr./Prof. Jones stated. His contention that the US caused the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Serbia shows a very unrealistic view of history. Somehow he forgets that the 9/11 attacks were launched from Afghanistan, that NATO went into Serbia to stop the “ethnic cleansing” (genocide) of Bosnians. To call the US military “imperialist” again shows a lack of understanding of what imperialism is, like what Russia has done in Georgia, Chechnya and Ukraine or what Chia has done in the South China Sea. It has been more than a century since the US has incorporated foreign lands into our country, as in Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. Are forces are, except for in Syria, in countries that invited us in.
    A wise person once wrote “The pages of history are littered with the corpses of pacifists.” I think it is sad but true that the unless a country has a military, it will be attacked and conquered by another one and then you can talk about imperialism.

    1. Mr. Sanders, modern day imperialism and colonization doesn’t require annexing land. It is more about occupying and threatening other countries with physical or economic violence (e.g., sanctions, debt, so-called free-trade agreements) in order to extract their wealth. What do you think all those 800+ foreign military bases are doing around the world? (Here’s where they are: https://worldbeyondwar.org/no-bases/) As you suggest, this might be clearer for people in the US to understand if there were any foreign bases in our own country. The rest of the world certainly understands the US to be the global empire and hegemon. It’s not accidental that we in this country don’t see that – we are led to believe that our military is there to protect us, not to violate and dominate others all over the world. We swim in a sea of propaganda from our education system to our corporate media to Hollywood, throughout our culture, deliberately designed to convince us that we are the good guys and to manufacture our consent for being, as Martin Luther King said, the “greatest purveyors of violence in the world.” War corporations like Raytheon are in the business of making huge profits from this violence. When military arms are your product, war is your marketing plan.

  14. Thanks to John Boyle for having the humility and courage to write this article. We need more of this kind of integrity from journalists, public officials and everyone else. Most people right now, liberal and conservative, recognize that our country and civilization are in grave danger in many ways. Which means the old ways of doing things -like huge military budgets, lack of decent publicly funded health care, corporate control of democratic institutions, climate chaos, poor management of the pandemic, etc – the old ways are not working and must be changed. To let Vanderbilt’s descendants who are among wealthiest families in the world make a secret deal with Raytheon, the 2nd largest war manufacturer in the world, and then impose it on our county’s publicly elected officials in secret, that’s wrong. Jack Cecil and the public officials should follow John Boyle’s lead and apologize, and Raytheon should leave our beautiful mountains and forests intact. The factory building should build conveyed to build windmills, not war machines! Like the 3000 year old Bible says: we need to turn swords into plowshares. NOW!

  15. I appreciate the follow-up. However, I would like to see The Asheville Watchdog’s investigative journalists harken back to Eisenhower in the 1950s when he warned Americans about the Military Industrial Complex. As I understand it, the MIC is about more than building war machines. It’s about the industry that builds war machines, these corporations, that control the game, not for the good of the country but for the good of the shareholders. Someone above noted sales to Saudi. Don’t they sell to just about anybody who will buy? Don’t they sell to Israel to kill Palestinians? Do they sell to Palestinians to return fire? AVL protesters are concerned with tax write-offs by COA and Buncombe County. Nationally, how many of our tax dollars go to MIC corporations above and beyond what DOD pays them, embellishing their already huge profits? Eisenhower, a Republican and respected WW II General and hero, knew of what he spoke.

  16. I am so proud of my neighbors in this area who realize that our leaders have been bought by war merchants, but we were the ones whose tax dollars were used without our approval. Thanks to Mr. Boyle for giving readers our side of the story. And we won’t stop. We’ve only begun to be a thorn in the flesh of those who want to sell out our moral values to the MIC and rich families who only want to get richer by desecrating land their great grandfather sought to preserve.

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