Around the Region: Another discount airline comes to Asheville, GSP

Published 8:27 am Friday, January 21, 2011

Area residents will soon have a new, low-cost option for flying to Florida. Vision Airlines announced it will start service in April from the Asheville Regional Airport and from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport to the Northwest Florida Regional Airport, near Fort Walton Beach. The airline, which plans each week to fly twice from Asheville and three times from GSP, is offering a $49 fare sale through Sunday, and later will offer fares at approximately $89 one way.
Vision was formed in 1994 using small planes for tours of the Grand Canyon and grew into a charter service over time. Today the company, based in Suwanee, Ga., near Atlanta, has six Boeing 767s and nine 737s in its commercial fleet. Flights from Asheville and GSP flights will be on the 150-seat 737s.
Vision is coming to Asheville and GSP as part of an expansion to 20 cities across the country. The company, which said it may add more destinations later from Asheville and GSP, is the latest low-cost carrier to come to the region.
Allegiant offers flights to Florida from GSP, while AirTran does the same from Asheville. Southwest Airlines announced last year it also is coming to GSP. The new low-cost carriers have reportedly been attracting customers. Airport data shows AirTran filled more than 83 percent of the seats on its flights from Asheville to Tampa between January and November of last year.
Several Progress Energy shareholders have filed suits in Wake County Superior Court to block the proposed merger between Progress and Duke Energy. The shareholders claim Duke is not paying enough for Progress Energy stock as part of the merger agreement that would create the largest electric utility company in the nation. The lawsuits are seeking class-action status to represent all of the Progress Energy shareholders.
Gary Jackson, an attorney representing some of the Progress Energy shareholders, said the lawsuits are aimed at stopping the merger so the value of the Progress stock “is maximized.”
Progress and Duke executives said the proposed merger will benefit shareholders by creating a stronger, more efficient company that can better meet challenges in the electric utility market, such as developing more alternative energy sources, including nuclear. The companies do not plan to complete the merger until later this year.
The Marriott at Renaissance Park in downtown Spartanburg is now under new ownership. A partnership headed by Southern Hospitality Group President Andrew Cajka and Spartanburg businessman Jimmy Gribbs closed last week on the hotel that had been owned by Bridgeview Capital Solutions, the original lender on the property.
Prior to reaching a deal with Bridgeview, the new owners negotiated terms with Spartanburg City Council to lease the hotel grounds and the hotel’s first-floor conference center, both of which are owned by the city.
The new owners said they plan to spend about $3 million on improvements at the hotel over the next couple years. The owners said they want to complete a concierge lounge on the hotel’s top floor, improve the lobby and reenergize the restaurant and bar space.
American Express announced it is closing its customer service center in Greensboro, a move that’s expected to eliminate 1,500 jobs in the city. The company said it is shifting work from the facility to other service centers in the country, as well as some overseas. The Greensboro facility has employed about 1,900 people. American Express said it will keep about 400 employees, working at home or virtually, in North Carolina after the center closes. Some of the other 1,500 employees will be offered jobs at other American Express facilities, said the company.
The Greensboro center, opened in 1985, is expected to close by the end of this year. American Express said the closure was prompted by an increase in the number of transactions completed online or with mobile devices.
Despite the closure of the service center, which at its peak employed about 3,800 people in the early 1990s, American Express is moving forward with its new $400 million data center near Greensboro. The new center is expected to employ about 100 people.
The recycling industry is bringing more jobs to North Carolina, according to a study by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. DENR said recycling-related jobs have increased 4.8 percent in North Carolina’s private sector since 2008 and the industry currently employs about 15,200 people in the state. State officials note the job growth was achieved despite the effects of the recession, and 48 percent of recycling businesses surveyed for the study said the plan to create more jobs in the next two years.
“The study shows that recycling not only helps us reduce our dependence on landfills, save energy and prevent pollution but that it also boosts the economy at a critical time,” said DENR Secretary Dee Freeman.
About 25 percent of the businesses that were surveyed for the study reported manufacturing a product using recycled material. The DENR study also found that the total annual payroll of recycling business in the state is $395.
Arts 2 People, an Asheville nonprofit group, is planning to create an Artist Resource Center that will provide professional training for artists in the area. The center, expected to open next month, will help artists with grant writing, web marketing, bookkeeping and other practical needs. Arts 2 People plans to provide the low-cost classes at 39D Market Street in Asheville.
The center is funded by The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, along with the Grassroots Arts Program Grant of the N.C. Arts Council and the Asheville Area Arts Council. Organizers of the center said it will provide artists access to equipment and give them a space to gather and support each other. Naomi Langsner, membership manager for Mountain BizWorks and a board member for Arts 2 People said the Artist Resources Center will take the educational programming offered by Asheville Artist Alliance “to the next level.” She notes that the arts are a “huge economic driver” in Asheville, and the center will help contribute to the economic vitality of the arts in Western North Carolina.
The plane that Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River may be coming to a North Carolina to be displayed at a museum in Charlotte. Carolinas Aviation Museum officials said they expect to finalize an agreement with the insurance company that owns the aircraft. The plane, which was disabled after a flock of geese hit the engines, was destined for Charlotte. All 155 passengers and crew members on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 were rescued following the landing in the river.
Shawn Dorch, president of the Carolinas Aviation Museum, said he hopes to have the Airbus 320 on display at the Charlotte museum by May.

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