After years of planning and development by the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite Foundation, Piedmont Triad International Airport, and other local leaders, the hard work is bearing fruit. Recent commitments by Toyota and Boom Supersonic are slated to bring thousands of good-paying jobs. And with them come the beginnings of a major shift in the region's economic identity from furniture, tobacco and textiles to aerospace, logistics and modern transportation.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro economic geography professor Keith Debbage has studied this transition for years and says the future looks bright, but challenges remain. He spoke with WFDD's David Ford.
On specific challenges for Toyota and Boom:
One big hurdle, I think, in terms of what will ultimately happen to our region as these firms begin to come into the marketplace, is Boom Supersonic is a startup. They have yet to build the plane. And it's a brand new company. So you know, lots of things can happen as they build out their product. Will it end up coming to fruition or not? Well, hopefully, it will. But we all need to temper our optimism with this notion that they are brand new virgin firms in their marketplace. With Toyota battery and the Randolph site, I have less of a concern there, because they're a Fortune 500 firm. They already had previously looked at this site. It really wouldn't be a crazy thing to think that along with that battery plant in the next two or three years will come an actual electric vehicle auto assembly plant next door to that battery plant at Randolph. Toyota executives have indicated this is the first of several decisions for that Randolph site. So, I feel pretty good about that prognosis.
On growth challenges:
Where is the labor pool going to come from for all these jobs? All of these jobs are in transportation-related sectors, two of the three electric vehicle assembly buildings potentially. So it's going to really be a stress and strain on both the universities, the community colleges and the various chambers to generate workforce development programs to fill those jobs. The other issue of course, is already the housing market is tapped out. We really have problems with availability in the housing stock, skyrocketing rental rates. So there's going to be a real challenge here regarding affordable housing. And so these are real hurdles to be overcome. But you know what? It beats dealing with problems of decline.
On Boom Supersonic's 100% sustainable goals:
You know, this would be revolutionary to be able to generate supersonic aircraft that is 100% sustainable aviation fuels, carbon-neutral, and offers an airfare of about $300. None of this has been done before. So, they've got some giant steps to take in order to prove a valid product. Now having said that, they do have contracts with major companies already in the form of Japan Airlines, United Airlines and other firms, but we need to keep our eyes open in terms of what might happen to that product as they build out moving forward.