News: CJ Exclusives

College kids take over GTP

Business plan to be released, consultant says

RALEIGH – The latest plan to keep the Global TransPark alive was unveiled Thursday at a forum in Greenville. Isaac Manning, a consultant recently hired by the GTP Foundation, told a select group of invitees to the forum that a team of five college students is developing a business plan for the project.

The students working on the project also doubled as well-dressed parking attendants who greeted them in the parking lot before the event, forum attendees interviewed by CJ said. The students are from East Carolina University and two other state universities.

Started in the early 1990s, the GTP was meant to become a futuristic manufacturing and transportation complex that would give factories access to large airplanes and world markets. The emphasis was on just-in-time manufacturing. Since its inception, the project has failed to attract any new manufacturing facilities.

The setting for the forum was ECU’s new Strength and Conditioning Center. The meeting was hosted by ECU Chancellor William Muse and N.C. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Gene Conti. Conti is also vice chairman of the GTP Authority. Beer, wine, and appetizers were served. Refreshments were paid for by the GTP Foundation, a private fund-raising organization affiliated with the publicly funded GTP Authority.

According to the invitation, the meeting was labeled a “public forum to discuss the GTP,” but all the panelists were strong supporters of the GTP. No panelists called for the project to be shut down. There were about 60 people in attendance. They were either public officials or business leaders from the 13-county GTP region.

Manning was an official with the Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. Two attendees told CJ they learned that Manning is being paid $15,000 per month by the GTP Foundation.

“When I came here I asked for a business plan. We’re making one. It will have what the TransPark can do, what the product is, what we can sell, and when we’re done, we’re going to take it up to Raleigh and answer the question everyone has been asking, which is how can this project make money and start to turn around,” The Free Press of Kinston reported Manning as saying. Manning said the study will be released in two weeks.

The discussion also included the GTP’s campaign for passenger service in Kinston. Officials at the New Bern and Greenville airports have voiced concerns about unfair competition with their airports.

Both Gov. Mike Easley and the N.C. Senate have proposed only $1.6 million in funding for the GTP this year. The House has yet to make a proposal. Rep. Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham County, told CJ he was frustrated with the lack of progress at the GTP. Five years ago he began asking GTP officials for a business plan. Cole is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.

Last week editorials in the state’s largest two newspapers discussed the future of the GTP. The News & Observer of Raleigh said that based on the lack of success and the state’s budget situation, GTP advocates “have reason to hold on by their fingernails.” The Charlotte Observer was much stronger, saying, “Lawmakers should stop sending money to the TransPark and give this fine rural airstrip to Kinston or Lenoir County.”

Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.