Jim Fain doesn’t have big shoes to fill. The last president of N.C. Global TransPark was the ex-CEO of a bankrupt airship manufacturer, and he left about eight years ago. But Fain, the former secretary of commerce recently hired as president of the 2,500-acre aviation-themed industrial park in Kinston, is still undertaking a big task: Bring credibility to an enterprise with a flighty past.
Fain led the commerce department from 2001 until 2008, is respected by legislators and, as a former banker, brings expertise to the TransPark’s troubled finances. Many credit him with luring Wichita, Kan.-based Spirit AeroSystems Inc., a global aircraft-parts maker and the park’s only major tenant, to the TransPark in 2008. “He’s part of some good, serendipitous things coming together,” says N.C. Transportation Secretary Gene Conti, chairman of the Global TransPark Authority.
The TransPark does look ready for a fresh start. It had languished after its 1991 creation despite receiving more than $250 million in tax money and was often targeted by legislators who wanted to kill it. But Spirit arrived four years ago promising more than 1,000 well-paying jobs. Then, in June, the General Assembly passed a bill giving the TransPark relief from its worst debt, nearly $40 million borrowed in 1993 from the state Escheat Fund. Conti says Fain “spent a fair amount of time” lobbying for it.
The new bill also makes the TransPark Authority subject to the direct supervision of Conti. “I’ve always felt there was logic to the TransPark being organized under the Department of Transportation,” Fain says. For example, Spirit will depend on a 5.7-mile, $14.3 million rail spur DOT is building that will connect the TransPark to a main line in Kinston and then to the state port at Morehead City.
Fain hit the ground running by attending the Paris Air Show, where he courted Spirit four years ago, in June and plans to assist “follow-on investors” moving to eastern North Carolina to support Spirit. “The success of the agency in creating jobs isn’t limited to just what’s on our property,” Fain says.
But he will become the TransPark’s second six-figure executive, earning $144,000 for his first year with mutual options to extend his tenure. Executive Director Darlene Waddell makes $115,000. The TransPark’s proponents are hoping that the invest- ment in the former commerce secretary is the ignition that finally helps the place take off.