GE Plant

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 24, 2008

“He said it cost 10 million dollars,” Batesville alderman Bill Dugger (right) says of the GEnx jet engine after hearing the price tag from Justin Whitman, human resources director of the new GE Aviation plant. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Guv: Batesville gets ‘rave reviews’ for GE plant

20 workers on payroll, but 475 lockers installed

By Billy Davis

Batesville’s new GE Aviation plant, which opened its doors Thursday for a grand opening, is more than a factory. It’s a magnet making other industries take a hard look at Panola County.

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“In name recognition, GE to us is comparable to Toyota for Tupelo,” Sonny Simmons, Panola Partnership CEO, said Thursday before the grand opening.

Simmons recruits industries to Panola County, and GE’s name recognition makes that job easier, he said.

“Other companies have asked us, ‘Why did GE pick your area?’ That question gives us an opening to tell them why,” Simmons said.

The “why” list Simmons says he rattles off includes a qualified, capable labor force; excellent highway access, including Interstate 55; and proximity to enviable resources at the University of Mississippi.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, speaking at the dedication ceremony with a GE jet engine as a backdrop, said luring GE Aviation to Mississippi “speaks volumes about our workforce.”

Barbour repeated a report he made last year that the manufacturing plant “represents the most sophisticated manufacturing GE does anywhere in the world,” paraphrasing a statement made to him by  a senior GE official.

GE Aviation announced in 2006 that it planned to build a plant in Mississippi, where the company had partnered with Mississippi State’s College of Engineering to design and test composite materials for aircraft engines.

The formal announcement that GE had picked a manufacturing site in Batesville came in May 2007.

GE Aviation announced early on that the Batesville plant would manufacture a “fan blade platform,” installed between the fan blades and the engine.

On Thursday, Miss. Development Authority Gray Swoope announced that the plant had added a second line to manufacture the fan case assembly, the circular structure that encloses the front fan.

Both the fan blade platform and fan case are made of carbon fiber and epoxy resin composite material.

The first manufacturing line is currently being installed by workers, Justin Whitman, human resources director, said this week.

By mid-summer GE Aviation had built a 300,000-square-foot building – the largest plant in Panola County – to manufacture its jet engine parts.

“When you built a building that size, you do it for a reason,” Simmons said, hinting at a reference to future employment numbers at the plant.

At the dedication ceremony, Barbour said GE Aviation CEO David Joyce had remarked about the rows of employee foot lockers that line a north wall of the cavernous plant.

“David said he told them to put in 475 lockers, and if we run out we’ll put in some more,” Barbour recalled.

Batesville’s GE Aviation plant currently employs a workforce of 20 workers, representing a single shift, who will manufacture composite materials for GE’s new GEnx commercial jet engine.

Plant officials have said a second shift of workers will be hired in 2009, and more hirings will come as more production lines are be added in coming years.

More than 1,000 applications poured in when GE announced it was hiring.

Other speakers at the dedication ceremony included U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, GE Aviation CEO David Joyce, and Kristie Sturgeon, plant leader of the Batesville factory.

The Rev. Zannie Leland of Batesville led an invocation.