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Eastern

Blackwater tightens security 

Camden County doesn’t make a splash on world maps. But changes on the world scene — not to mention domestic politics — could fuel one of its biggest economic-development engines. Blackwater Worldwide LLC, which is already the county’s largest employer — 700 workers — has expansion plans, and executives say it’s on track to gross $1 billion a year. But little, if any, of that growth will come from the controversial business that has brought it worldwide attention — private security contractors in Iraq and elsewhere. Instead, Blackwater expects to expand aviation, logistics and training of law-enforcement personnel. “That’s where we see areas of growth, simply because we don’t see the security market growing,” spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell says.

The company (cover story, June 2007) has landed about $1 billion in federal contracts — mostly for security contractors — since it was founded in 1997. “There’s no leaving that business,” Tyrrell says. But Iraq, where the company has had up to 1,400 guards, is cooling off, and analysts say a Democratic president this fall could chill demand for private security forces. As that business plateaus and others grow, security could account for a smaller percentage of Blackwater’s bottom line.

The emphasis on logistics and aviation — Blackwater has a 2,500-foot runway and a new hangar where it bases its Presidential Airlines — would increase revenue, but expanded training might be a greater boon to the local economy, says Vann Rogerson, president of the 16-county Northeastern Regional Economic Development Commission. “Any time you have visitors and business people coming into the region, they’re going to spend money here.”

About 500 people a day train at Blackwater, but it’s not close to its capacity of 1,200. More than doubling training could substantially push the company toward its $1 billion-a-year goal. Tyrrell says no target date has been set, though some other company executives suggested that it’s 2010. Blackwater also makes metal targets, self-contained firing ranges and an armored combat vehicle. It is scheduled to begin production of unmanned airships this fall.

Another result of the shift? Perhaps an easier battle on the public-relations front. Logistics and training will be less controversial than security work. Several of Blackwater’s contractors are being investigated in the killing of 17 Baghdad civilians last fall.

Popping corn

This might be remembered as the year corn got creamed. Blame falling prices, soaring expenses and bad weather. The bright side? It would have been worse last year.

Driven by ethanol-fueled prices, farmers planted 1.1 million acres of corn then (“Fool’s Gold?” November 2007). This year, they cut back to 890,000. Good thing. In late spring, futures prices for December delivery peaked at $8 a bushel. “Since then, we’ve had a near collapse,” says Nick Lassiter, the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s corn-marketing specialist. “Traders began taking profits and shoring up their balance sheets.”

By August, prices had dropped to about $5.50. Then there’s the situation on the ground. “Nobody has an excep- tional crop, and some places are really bad,” Lassiter says. In many cases, last year’s yields of 150 bushels an acre will plummet to less than 40 this fall. Cap that with record-high fertilizer and energy costs. “We may see a lot of this corn acreage back in cotton next year.”

 

ROBERSONVILLE Anne’s House of Nuts will expand its plant, adding 263 jobs in three years to give it about 470. The Jessup, Md.-based snack packager will spend $2.3 million.

WASHINGTONFountain Powerboat Industries plans to spend $12 million to expand its factory. It will add about 250 jobs in five years, for a total of more than 575. Fountain bought the Baja Marine boat line from Brunswick earlier this year.

GOLDSBOROReuel, which makes molded electrical insulators, began a $3 million expansion that could nearly double employment to 100. It is boosting production of power-traction equipment for rail systems.

WILMINGTON — New York-based EUE Screen Gems Studios is building a 37,500-square-foot film and television production stage, which it says will be the largest on the East Coast. The stage will include a 3,600-square-foot, 10.5-foot-deep tank for river and ocean shots.

JACKSONVILLE — The North Carolina Eastern Region Military Task Force received a federal grant of nearly $1.6 million to plan for Marine Corps expansion. The number of troops and dependents on three bases is expected to grow nearly a third to about 89,000 in three years.

GREENVILLE — Finland-based Nokia Siemens Networks took over operation of an 83-employee call center for Embarq, a Kansas-based phone company. No layoffs are planned. Terms were not revealed.