Tuesday, July 09, 2013

GE Aviation plans 105-job West Jefferson expansion

GE Aviation is taking a “the more the merrier” approach to its expansion plans in North Carolina, giving West Jefferson a significant role in producing aviation engines that will be lighter and more heat resistant.

The company announced at last month’s air show in Paris it was adding production at its Asheville facility, where it will make jet engine components made of advanced ceramic matrix composite materials.

On Tuesday, GE Aviation confirmed that its West Jefferson plant will be part of its overall $195 million capital investment over five years. Facilities in Durham and near Wilmington also will benefit from the expansion.

Pat Mitchell, county manager and economic-development director for Ashe County, said the company has committed to a $57.8 million expansion in West Jefferson that would add 105 jobs and an additional 80,000 square-feet of manufacturing space.

The company chose North Carolina over 11 other states, with Delaware considered as the other front-runner for the expansion taking place in Asheville.

GE Aviation entered West Jefferson in January 2007 through its purchase of Smiths Aerospace for $4.8 billion. Smiths opened its 120,000-square-foot plant there in 2005. The current GE Aviation workforce is 160.

With the projected expanded workforce of 265, GE Aviation would become Ashe’s second largest manufacturing employer behind American Emergency Vehicles’ 320-person workforce.

“GE is such a well-known, quality company that for them to decide to expand in North Carolina, and in particular in West Jefferson, speaks volumes about the confidence they have in our work ethic,” Mitchell said.

GE Aviation said the materials are “a differentiator for its next-generation aircraft engines.”

The company said the technology will result in enhanced performance and improved durability of engines, which translates into lower fuel and maintenance costs for aviation customers. Mitchell said GE Aviation has been conducting research and development on the technology for more than two decades.

Mitchell said the West Jefferson piece of the expansion involves making engine parts out of the new materials.

She said the company plans to begin the expanded work in West Jefferson with existing employees and production in year one. She said GE Aviation expects to have the new production space – which will be located in front of the existing facility – operational by mid-2015.

The goal is adding up to 18 jobs by mid-2014, 56 by mid-2015 and the rest by mid-2016. Mitchell said she does not know how GE Aviation plans to hire the new employees.

The average salary among all 242 jobs is expected to be $47,942 plus benefits. Gov. Pat McCrory’s office said the average annual wages will be above the average wage in all four counties. The company already has more than 1,300 employees in North Carolina.

David Joyce, GE Aviation’s president and chief executive, said Asheville will serve as its first facility involved in the mass production of ceramic matrix composite components.” “We believe the future Asheville plant will be on the ground floor of a new technology that will change aviation,” Joyce said.

The company has been made eligible for up to $3.57 million in performance-based incentives from the state’s Job Development Investment Grant program, and up to $1.25 million from the One North Carolina Fund.

Mitchell said West Jefferson is providing up to $610,000 in incentives toward the project, while Ashe County is providing $585,000. Those incentives will be paid out over seven years.

The nonprofit Ashe County Job Development Inc. is providing $350,000, while the N.C. Rural Center is providing $500,000 toward the cost of the expanded facility in West Jefferson.

“Our elected and community leaders should be commended for taking an aggressive approach to the incentive package considering the level of competition we were facing for the project,” Mitchell said.

The expansion will help to soften the blow from the loss this year of 142 jobs at United Chemi-Con Inc.’s plant in Lansing. The company has about 100 employees at the plant.

According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, GE Aviation has been made eligible for up to $4 million in local incentives.

By comparison, Delaware offered a package of $1.9 million in grants and $1.5 million in capital incentives, tied to 400 jobs and construction of the manufacturing building.

McCrory said the GE Aviation expansion fits right in his wheelhouse for job creation.

“We tend to get a bigger bang for our buck through getting existing businesses to grow,” McCrory said.

The expanding GE Aviation facility could enhance the reputation of the Triad's burgeoning aerotropolis industrial cluster. Although an aerotropolis is defined as a metropolitan area centered on a large airport or aerospace industry, it can include such logistical and distribution sectors as trucking.

Other key members of the local aerotropolis including Atlantic Aero, B/E Aerospace Inc., FedEx’s air and ground hubs, Honda Aircraft Co., NS Aviation LLC, Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., Timco Aerosystems and Timco Aviation Services, Triumph Actuation Systems LLC and Volvo Trucks North America.

“The aviation industry is a critical target sector for North Carolina, one that is becoming increasingly important to sustainable job and investment growth for the state,” said Sharon Decker, the state’s Commerce secretary.

“Our state has the customized job training programs and skilled workforce that advanced manufacturers like GE Aviation need to compete in a global market.”

Source:  http://www.news-record.com

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