It costs about $200 a bottle and is a favorite of Richard T. Santulli, chief executive of private airline NetJets. A state business recruiter made a point to find out before a December dinner for him.
No detail was too small as the state tried to woo the Ohio company to the Triangle and gain as many as 3,000 jobs.
Records made public by the state Department of Commerce chronicle an eight-month courtship with meticulous planning -- down to instructions for the governor on making small talk -- that involved some of the Triangle's top business leaders.
The files illustrate the intensity of the race between the states in corporate recruitment and show how personal connections as much as financial incentives can shape decisions.
North Carolina did not lure NetJets, which in March announced expansion in Columbus, Ohio.
State and Triangle officials faced a hurdle all along.
"I think the biggest decision they are weighing is not which city to choose but whether to take the risk of going through this at all," Jim Captain, site manager for Credit Suisse in Research Triangle Park, wrote in November to Ken Atkins, Wake County's economic development director.
Captain sent the e-mail after meeting with NetJets executives. State and local officials pushed to mollify their concerns, including offering a package of financial incentives that could have exceeded $111 million and the possibility of legislation for additional tax breaks.
"We did put the full press on them," Atkins said in an interview. "We felt this was a great project -- still feel like it's a great project, quite frankly."
Trying for a big prize
An opportunity like NetJets is rare. Most projects have, at most, a few hundred jobs. NetJets planned thousands and as much as $300 million in investment.
More than that, it had the backing of one of the world's top investors. Billionaire Warren Buffett owns NetJets, which got its start more than two decades ago.
Local officials began pursuing NetJets under the code name "Project Horizon" in July.
The evening of July 26, two executives dined with the Carolina Hurricanes' general manager, Jim Rutherford; Commerce Secretary Jim Fain; the director of Raleigh-Durham International Airport Authority, John Brantley and others.
NetJets was considering Ohio, the Triangle, Fort Worth, Texas; and Orlando, Fla. According to the records, the July meetings helped recruiters figure out what would influence the decision: schools, the work force, quality of life and moving costs.
Tour of neighborhoods
Discussions intensified in October and November as delegations traveled between Columbus and RDU. On one trip, five real estate agents ferried six NetJets executives through Wake and Durham counties to show them where employees could live. They met representatives of MeadWestvaco, Credit Suisse and Fidelity Investments -- companies earlier persuaded to bring jobs to the state.
"It's not unusual," said Captain of Credit Suisse, whose managers talked with local executives before deciding to build in RTP. In 2004, Credit Suisse was promised $14.4 million in aid to create 400 jobs; it has since announced plans to add 400 more.
NetJets wanted to find out "if our expectations were met," Captain said. His response: Credit Suisse has "had no second thoughts."
Deploying the chiefs
NetJets sells stakes in jets so that companies and individuals can have private plane service at a lower cost. Its operations are complex, and because of that, many executives had a say in its decision.Bob Greczyn, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, sensed early on that North Carolina had help making its case. He is chairman of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, which markets a 13-county region. He met with NetJets execs here and in Columbus.
"When you get into it, you start to hear, 'My mother has retired to North Carolina,' " he said. "There were lots of connections we thought were useful."
One of them was David Powell, NetJets' vice president for government relations. He earlier worked in economic development for Durham County. On Dec. 9, he sent e-mail to Charles Hayes, the partnership's president.
"The more I think about this project," Powell wrote, "there are 3 clear competitive advantages the Triangle has over Columbus, Orlando and just about any other place." He listed them: the ability to attract talent, top universities and connections between industry, government and academia.
"I want RTS to hear these three things everywhere we go," he concluded, referring to Santulli.
The CEO arrived the next day.
In Columbus, the political and business communities worried about losing a major employer.
Among those who rallied to persuade NetJets to stay: Leslie H. Wexner, founder of Limited Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret; Jerry Jurgensen, CEO of Nationwide Insurance; and Ohio State University football coach Jim Tressel.
That upped the pressure on North Carolina officials.
"Do you know what Santulli favorite wine is," Vivian Powell, a Commerce recruiter, asked a NetJets executive in e-mail. "Sassicaia" (pronounced sass-ih-KAI-uh) was the response. "We want to make sure they have it at the restaurant" for dinner, she wrote.
Dennis Gillings, CEO of Quintiles Transnational, a homegrown drug research firm that won $25 million in incentives to add 1,000 jobs in Durham, hosted that meal. Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson; Matthew Szulik, chairman of Raleigh software developer Red Hat, and Fain joined them at Chapel Hill's Bin 54.
In less than 30 hours here, Santulli met a who's who of the Triangle. The agenda included Jim and Ann Goodnight, the billionaire couple behind SAS of Cary; Chris Viehbacher, GlaxoSmithKline's president of U.S. pharmaceuticals in RTP, and Gov. Mike Easley.
Easley got an 11-page memo in advance with explicit instructions and eight talking points.
It didn't work. Three months later, Santulli spoke in Columbus.
"I couldn't be more happy to be standing here today," he told employees. "The decision we made is the one I wanted to make."
Santulli said the decision tipped in favor of Columbus at a December dinner that Limited Brands' Wexner hosted.
But NetJets also was promised almost $100 million in incentives if it stayed put. Critics contend that it talked with North Carolina only to get a better deal from Ohio.
Not so, said those involved: NetJets put in too much time and energy to be insincere.
"You don't get them all," said Atkins, the Wake recruiter. "I'm glad we had a shot at it. It was worth every minute of the effort."email@example.com
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