The announcement just before Christmas that HondaJet’s HF120 engine has been certified by the FAA was good news for Greensboro – potentially very good news.
If production of the small jet ramps up as planned, and if the company goes on to capture anything close to the 15% marketshare projected by Honda Aircraft Company CEO Michimasa Fujino, then we’ll have a shiny new $2 billion manufacturing firm on our hands, complete with headquarters, service, and assembly jobs It's true that the plane has been beset by delays, and new entrants into the private aviation game have a poor track record. But the engine certification was a genuine milestone and Honda has demonstrated a serious commitment to both to this plane and this region, so it’s reasonable to hope for the best.
Beyond the value of the company itself would come other benefits to the local economy, including:
- Validation of the GSO as an emerging player in the aviation industry, with a meaningful HQ and assembly operation joining FedEx and the big Timco service facility at our passenger-starved airport. Boeing was never going to bring its 777 production here – but if this goes well we might make the cut for future projects.
- Strengthening the regional identity and self-awareness of the Greensboro/Burlington metroplex (the engines will be produced in Alamance County). Last year’s merger of Cone Health and Alamance Regional Medical Center, along with the potential development of the County farm in eastern Guilford, underscore the momentum this long-term trend toward regionalization has achieved.
- The PR value of having a genuinely sexy high-end product made here in the NC Piedmont.
Most important, to my mind, is the big boost HondaJet would represent in terms of advanced manufacturing. America still makes a lot of stuff, but we don’t make it the way we did back when manufacturing turned this region into one of the richest parts of the state. These days it’s all about the highly engineered design and service of smart products, and, yes, that’s a jet engine on the cover of this report that I worked on for the day job. Building engines and assembling planes at the end of a complex supply chain is a sweet spot in the modern economy, and it could attract and also spin off other high-value businesses.
HondaJet alone isn’t going to be a silver bullet. This is a strength we'll have to work to develop. GTCC, A&T engineering, the nanotech campus, our logistical muscle, and smart political leadership – all could play important roles.
There were other big local economic stories in 2013, including the ongoing changes to the healthcare industry (not just the Alamance/Cone deal but the large, negative impact of North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid) and of course the significant progress toward two major downtown projects, the performing arts center and the joint higher-ed campus. But if HondaJet pans out and then spurs development of our advanced manufacturing muscle, that easy-to-overlook certification notice could be the biggest news of all.