June 09--Community and regional leaders gathered at the GE Aviation factory in West Jefferson Thursday to celebrate an expansion of the facility, which will bring an additional 105 jobs to Ashe County by 2017.
"This is GE's commitment to the community that we made eight years ago," said Tim Tucker, the plant manager for the West Jefferson facility. "Last June, we decided to bring 250 jobs to the state of North Carolina. Of those 250 jobs, over 100 will come right here in West Jefferson."
Tucker said the expansion is a testament to the workforce in the area.
"You have a proven track record that made our senior leadership's decision easier," he said.
The 80,000 square foot expansion will be done in order for the company to build LEAP engines for jets in the facility.
"The LEAP engine has some of the most advance technology in the world, and it is going to be made in a factory right here in West Jefferson," Tucker said. "The partnership, as well as the support from our local and federal officials is vital to the success of our facility."
According to a release sent out by GE Aviation, the company could begin hiring at the expanded facility as early as 2015. The company's workforce at the Ashe County plant is expected to have 265 workers within five years.
Right now, GE Aviation has employed over 1,300 employees throughout North Carolina at its facilities in West Jefferson, Durham, Wilmington and Asheville.
After providing the introduction, other speakers, including U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx and the Chairman of the Ashe County Commissioners Gary Roark, talked about the expansion of the facility.
"We do have the best workforce anywhere in the world, right here in the mountains of North Carolina," Foxx said. "I truly believe that, and I am glad GE has recognized that too."
Foxx also said when GE makes an investment to add jobs to Ashe County and North Carolina, the effect is significant.
Roark expressed his appreciation of GE expanding its Ashe County facility.
"At this time, when companies have moved their manufacturing offshore, GE has shown its commitment to excellence by expanding their manufacturing operations today," he said. "To assist GE Aviation in the quest for manufacturing excellence, Ashe County is committed to partnering our plant, our school system, our community college and the state to ensure their success in our county."
Roark said the county is thankful to have GE Aviation as a member of its "manufacturing family." Also, Roark noted the average salary expected by the new jobs, which will be $47,942, compared to the median household income for the county, which is approximately $36,500.
The final speaker was Randall Hobbs, the general manager of rotating parts and compressor airfoils for GE Aviation. Hobbs is responsible for eight different GE Aviation facilities and over 4,000 employees globally.
"We came (to West Jefferson) with a need and a desire to grow our capabilities and grow our employee base in North Carolina," he said.
Hobbs said that the highest number of committed jobs in GE Aviation's North Carolina expansion was in West Jefferson.
"That truly is a testament to you guys and gals," Hobbs said. "It was nice to see all of those communities come together for the greater good of North Carolina. I wanted to say thanks to (the workers) for that."
In addition, Hobbs said the commitment to West Jefferson by GE Aviation is one that is "generational."
"We're doing LEAP, we're going to be doing LEAP with your kids and we're going to be doing LEAP with your grandkids," he said. "That is going to happen here, that's a generational commitment. We lift people up, that's more than taking them up in the sky."
Following the ceremony, community leaders and others were then given a tour of the GE Aviation facility. Following the tour, Foxx expressed her pleasure in the expansion taking place in Ashe County.
"I think GE has made a wonderful decision to do this and they have a fantastic workforce here," Foxx said. "They are going to pour their heart and soul into this work, as they have in the past."
Foxx said, as a former community college president, she understood the importance of keeping the workforce updated on training and skills in order to keep jobs in the country.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.
Copyright 2014 - Jefferson Post, West Jefferson, N.C.