Raleigh Exec Helps Regional Manufacturing Soar
Published in The Sanford Herald's 2022 Industrial Edition
When VinFast announced last spring that it would build its first facility in the United States to manufacture electric cars, the news reverberated around the state. The $4 billion investment was headed for North Carolina, the largest economic development project in state history at the time and one projected to create at least 7,500 jobs over the next five years.
The news also reverberated through Raleigh Exec. The general aviation airport serving the Triangle region is located just around the corner by industrial standards -- an easy, six-minute drive from the new VinFast location at Triangle Innovation Point.
"That's already been a huge development for our region and our airport," said Airport Director Bob Heuts. "But we're ready for the increased air traffic VinFast will bring, because we work with manufacturers all the time. For many of them, we provide a real competitive advantage in some pretty competitive industries."
Manufacturing executives from nearby companies like Caterpillar -- as well as their suppliers and other business travelers -- rely on the airport for business every day. Though Raleigh Exec has no commercial passenger flights, many companies use the airport for corporate aircraft moving people from location to location around the country. Some take advantage of charter companies providing passenger flights in and out of the airport. And others use the airport to fly in essential equipment and supplies.
A growing number of companies even base their corporate aircraft at Raleigh Exec or run their entire companies on the field. In fact, eight businesses, most of them providing aircraft maintenance or aviation-related services, currently have facilities at the airport.
Back in February, airport officials held a ceremony to welcome one company and its Gulfstream G550 jet. The water salute, used in aviation to mark special occasions, not only celebrated the aircraft moving into the airport, but marked the first company occupying the airport's North Terminal development, a new section of seven shovel-ready sites with special infrastructure designed for large corporate hangars.
Shelton Aviation opened its facility just one month later and is now home to three jets and one turbo aircraft. CEO Donnie Shelton, who also serves as top executive for Coalmarch and Triangle Pest Control, had plenty of options, but chose to base his aircraft at Raleigh Exec.
"Over many years, we've enjoyed the convenient location and personal service at Raleigh Exec, which is why we recently invested in building a major corporate hangar at the airport," he said after the move. "As more companies learn about the advantages it offers, I'm sure they'll also be making the decision to operate out of Raleigh Exec."
That seems to be happening already.
Since Shelton Aviation opened its hangar, other major corporate hangars in the North Terminal section are in the works and Heuts says companies of all kinds have expressed an interest in South Terminal, a new development of mid-sized hangars located on the opposite side of the terminal.
South Terminal is part of a broader airport expansion project that includes new drainage systems, new water and sewer lines and an additional taxiway connecting existing taxiways that run in between rows of smaller hangars used by serious recreational pilots.
All of that airport expansion comes at a good time, especially with recent manufacturing announcements throughout the region. Heuts said companies are drawn by all sorts of factors -- from quality schools and community college programs to robust infrastructure, rail access and an experienced manufacturing workforce.
When it opened in 2000, the airport was home to 27 smaller planes moved from another airport that Raleigh Exec was built to replace. Now, nearly 200 aircraft of all kinds are based at the airport -- from single-engine planes to multi-engine planes and large corporate jets. Heuts says the new terminal, which serves as a "front door for the Triangle," is one of the nicest in the state and there's even an electric charge pad for electric airplanes now under construction to accommodate the future of aviation.
The bottom line: More companies looking to build new facilities require a local airport. And one with the contemporary facilities, expanding capacity and forward-looking plans of Raleigh Exec makes the region even more attractive.
VinFast is one of the major economic projects now headed for the Triangle, but it's not the only one. Semiconductor manufacturer Wolfspeed announced its new manufacturing plant in September -- a $5 billion investment creating more than 1,800 jobs -- all near Siler City, about a 30-minute drive from Raleigh Exec.
And with Chatham Park, one of the nation's largest planned communities, in its very early stages of development less than 20 minutes away in Pittsboro, business constantly flowing into other Triangle communities within a half-hour drive, nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport shifting its focus to commercial passenger flights and general aviation picking up speed across the nation, it looks like things will only get busier at Raleigh Exec.
"We're ready," says Heuts. "It's definitely an exciting time for business and manufacturing in the Triangle and, really, throughout our state and the entire country. We've built a strong relationship with companies throughout this region and we're happy we can help everyone keep their competitive edge."
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