For a company that keeps up with every package it handles, Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp. has a hard time saying when it will deliver a fully operational sorting hub to Piedmont Triad International Airport, near Greensboro. When the $350 million project was announced in 1998, FedEx said it would open in 2003 with 1,500 employees.
But not until earlier this year did workers complete the million-square-foot hub building. By then, FedEx, suffering from a cutback in shipping during the recession, had lowered employment estimates — first to a range between 600 and 800 and now to about 350. So far, the only workers in the building are about 160 that were moved there in June from other sites at the airport.
Some delays were beyond FedEx’s control. Regulatory and legal issues pushed back the start of construction to January 2006. The 9,000-foot runway the airport built to serve the hub wasn’t finished until this fall and was still awaiting federal certification in late October. Ted Johnson, executive director of the airport, says final approval likely won’t come until some trees have been removed to improve visibility from the control tower. He expects that to be done by the end of the year.
The region’s boosters are happy that the long wait is over and that they can finally say the hub is open. But even after the runway is cleared, state and airport leaders won’t have the package they thought they would be getting when they put together incentives that included $115 million in tax credits on top of millions in infrastructure and other improvements.
The real hang-up for FedEx is the economy. Equipped with high-speed conveyor belts and laser-scanning technology, the hub can sort 24,000 packages an hour. But FedEx doesn’t need that much capacity now, spokesman Jim McCluskey says. “If you look back over the 10-plus years since the hub was announced, we had projections of where we wanted to be. The delays did affect us getting in there. Economic conditions changed during that time.”
FedEx won’t provide a timetable for ramping up — perhaps that’s better than disappointing people again — but it remains bullish about the hub. In his measured way, McCluskey confirms it. “Our commitment still remains to involve the airport as much as we can as soon as the economy allows us to do so. We remain upbeat.”
Was it a raw Dell?
Call it a reboot to the stomach. That’s what Forsyth County got when Dell said it would close its four-year-old computer factory there in January. About 600 of the plant’s 905 employees will lose their jobs this month. The Round Rock, Texas-based company never saw most of $280 million in incentives state and local governments promised (cover story, March 2005). Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines says Dell must return all the local money — $15.5 million to the city and $7.9 million to the county — plus it will owe county property taxes on the plant it spent $119 million to build and equip. A state Commerce Department spokeswoman says Dell got about $8.5 million in job grants, worker training and tax credits. It has agreed to repay the job grants, about $1.5 million.