WEST JEFFERSON — GE Aviation, a global leader in jet engine and aircraft system production, hosted a grand opening ceremony on Thursday at the site of its machining factory in West Jefferson.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory spoke during a grand opening ceremony along with GE Aviation Rotating Parts Value Stream general manager Randy Hobbs, West Jefferson plant manager Tim Tucker, Assistant Secretary for Rural Development Dr. Pat Mitchell and High Country Workforce Director Adrian Tait.
Officials from the Town of West Jefferson and Ashe County were also present to commemorate the grand opening.
GE Aviation’s $65 million investment in the new 80,000-square-foot expansion will allow for increased capacity as the shop assumes additional machining work.
The increase in volume is driven largely by orders for the new LEAP jet engine of CFM International, a 50/50 joint company of GE and Snecma (Safran) of France. To date, CFM has logged total orders and commitments with airlines for more than 9,550 LEAP engines, which enters service in 2016. It will power the new Airbus A320neo, Boeing 737 MAX and COMAC (China) C919 aircraft for airlines worldwide.
“We are investing millions and millions for capacity and for the latest and cutting edge technology,” Hobbs said. “There is going to be products from Ashe County exported all over every region of the globe,” Hobbs said.
GE has hired 45 additional employees for the expanded facility so far and plans to hire 60 more over the next couple of years, pushing the plant’s total workforce to more than 285. These employees do both rough and finished machining of components for the core of the engine including disks, spools and shafts.
“The West Jefferson team and surrounding community will play a vital role in the next-generation of aircraft engines,” Tucker said. “We’re ready for that challenge and proud to be a part of it.”
Prior to the ceremony, McCrory met with GE Aviation plant workers and spoke to them about their work duties even writing on his hand the work they do to read aloud during his speech.
“GE would not be expanding in this area unless the employees for the last five to eight years had good work ethics, good talent, were dependable and really cared for each other,” McCrory said. “I just want to thank the men and women in blue who made this happen because the governor can’t take credit for this, the mayor can’t take credit for this. The people who made this happen are the men and women in blue.”
“We are grateful GE Aviation chose its West Jefferson facility for this expansion,” said Mitchell. “This development demonstrates the long-term commitment to jobs and economic growth in West Jefferson, Ashe County and North Carolina, where nothing compares to our well-trained workforce.”
The new facility is part of a larger commitment by GE Aviation to invest $195 million across its North Carolina operations through 2017. GE Aviation employs more than 1,500 people in North Carolina at sites in Durham, West Jefferson, Wilmington and Asheville. The West Jefferson expansion, combined with the new facility in Asheville and plant and equipment upgrades at existing sites across North Carolina, will account for more than 240 additional GE jobs in North Carolina by 2017.
“To have ‘made in North Carolina’ on this piece of equipment, I think about that now when I see these planes fly over Charlotte International Airport or Raleigh Airport or Greensboro Airport. North Carolina’s name is on every one of these planes,” McCrory said. “That’s a tribute to everyone of you and it’s a tribute to North Carolina, it’s a tribute to the hardworking men and women who make this state great and I just want to say thank you.”
To help with the new workload, GE has partnered with Wilkes Community College. The training program at the Tigra facility allows current and prospective employees to train in a hands-on environment with state-of-the-art machinery.
“I’m delighted that GE partnered with Wilkes Community College to give local workers the opportunity to gain the necessary skills to fill these new jobs. This expansion will have positive ripple effects throughout this region for a long time to come. But bringing this massive project to realization wouldn’t have been possible without the many committed team members involved,” said Ginger Shaffer, Director of Workforce Development for Wilkes Community College. “I am proud that Wilkes Community College is equipped with expert instructors and the latest technology to deliver high-quality training designed to meet the needs of new and growing industries in this region.”
After the ceremony, facility leader Ronnie Miller spoke about the local impact GE Aviation has on Ashe County.
“Not only do we hire people locally, we help local businesses,” Miller said. “We pull materials and we use local services such as carpentry and masonry. It gives local businesses the opportunity to grow too by us needing and pulling supplies.”
Miller also spoke of the clean and professional environment the staff take pride in at GE Aviation.
“We want to be the pride of the county,” Miller said. “We want people to want to come here and work.”
For more information, visit www.ge.com/aviation.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.