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REGIONALREPORT Eastern

New owner will reinforce Xe 

For more than two years, Moyock-based Xe Services Inc. has been rattling government officials and economic developers in northeastern North Carolina. In late 2008, it sacked 52 workers and closed a newly built plant after it failed to land a key government contract. In March, it sold its 225-employee aviation division, and, in December, the new owner announced that the division would move to Florida. A week later, a New York-based holding company bought Xe, formerly Blackwater USA.

But contrary to speculation that the company was heading down the drain, it appears Xe’s new owners might beef up operations not only in its home county, Currituck, but also in neighboring Camden. USTC Holdings LLC “plans to invest further in the company primarily on the training side,” says a spokeswoman who asked not to be named — Xe is no less secretive than Blackwater (Cover story, June 2007). Such a shift could distance Xe from the volatile private-security business that plunged it into hot water in Iraq and elsewhere. A federal judge in 2009 dismissed manslaughter charges against six employees in connection with the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, but a wrongful-death lawsuit is still pending.

Though controversial on the international scene, Xe is a valued corporate citizen in the job-hungry northeast. “They’ve been our largest taxpayer and employer for years,” says Camden County Manager Randell Woodruff, who also serves as economic-development director. “We’re a rural county, and mainly a farming area. We work closely with them.”

Local officials are scrambling to cement relations with the new owners, two Manhattan private-equity firms that joined forces for the sole purpose of buying Xe. “We want to let them know we’ll do everything we can to keep them strong,” says Peter Bishop, economic-development director in Currituck County. A company spokeswoman declined to say how many Xe employs. “I think it was up to about 1,200 at one time,” Bishop says. Now the number is about 600, he says, after the loss of the aviation division.

Currituck and Camden have other interests in Xe’s health. Its 70,000-square-foot industrial building where armored vehicles were to be assembled remains vacant. And the departure of Xe’s aviation arm could leave the company’s 5,200-foot runway and new hangar lightly used. Camden doesn’t have a local airport, important for economic recruiting, though striking a deal with Xe could be touchy. “What makes their compound so attractive to them is that it is so private,” Bishop says. ”But we want to let them know we will work with them. We’re coming in with open arms.”

 
HAVELOCK — When Cherry Point air station near Havelock adds eight squadrons of Marine Corps F-35 Joint Strike Fighters by 2020, it will boost troop levels by about 1,194. Construction to prepare for the squadrons will cost about $507 million. The fighters will replace two older aircraft.

WASHINGTONPAS USA plans to expand its factory here and add 239 jobs within five years, which would bring employment to 376. The German appliance-panel maker will spend $3.2 million.

NAGS HEAD
— The U.S. Department of Interior approved plans to replace the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which spans Oregon Inlet, after more than 30 years of lobbying by Outer Banks residents. The 3.3-mile bridge will cost $300 million and take three years to build. Bids will be taken this summer.
 
AHOSKIEEnviva started construction of a wood-pellet plant that will employ 53. The Richmond, Va.-based company makes biomass-fuel products. The $52 million plant is scheduled to open by the end of the year.

KINSTON — The city will lose its minor-league baseball team after this season. Steve Grant bought the Kinston Indians and will move the team to Zebulon. He sold the Zebulon-based Carolina Mudcats to Florida businessman Quint Studer, who will move the ball club to Pensacola. Teams in the Indians’ league are closer to each other, which will reduce travel costs.

FAYETTEVILLE — Ben Hancock Jr., 58, takes over as president of Methodist University March 1. He succeeds Elton Hendricks, 75, who is retiring. Hancock is vice president for university advancement at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Cumberland County ranked second behind Arlington County, Va., in total income growth among counties with at least $10 billion in income during the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Pay increases at Fort Bragg helped boost income 4.7% to nearly $11.9 billion. Similar factors helped Onslow County, home to Camp Lejeune, rank first nationally among counties with income ranging from $1 billion to $10 billion.