By Billy Davis
A who’s who of GE Aviation leaders descended on North Mississippi, on August 5 and 6, for a two-day conference.
The GE Aviation plant in Batesville hosted the event, which drew 100 key workers from the corporation’s supply chain operations in the United States and overseas.
Much of the discussion included a planning session for the remaining months of 2009 and 2010, said Batesville plant leader Jeanne Edwards.
GE leaders who were represented included Scott Ernest, vice president of the supply chain.
The attendees started their conference at The Inn in Oxford, where they also stayed. On the first day, they were welcomed by Ole Miss Vice Chancellor Dr. Alice Clark.
Gray Swoope, executive director of the Miss. Development Authority, also spoke to the gathering.
Swoope described the teamwork between state government and GE that brought GE Aviation to Mississippi, and also described the ongoing partnership after GE established itself in the state.
Swoope’s aim was to describe how a Mississippi “customer, in this case GE Aviation, becomes part of the state’s economic development team,” said MDA spokesman Melissa Medley.
Sonny Simmons, representing Panola County’s Panola Partnership, also addressed the GE officials.
GE Aviation built the Batesville plant after the corporate giant partnered with Mississippi State’s Engineering Department to develop and test state-of-the-art composite materials for jet engines. A similar partnership has since been announced with the University of Southern Mississippi and its School of Polymers and High Performance Materials.
On day two of the conference, the Batesville plant hosted a tour of its 300,000-square-foot facility, known in company jargon as the Batesville Composites Operation.
Many outsiders are aware of the materials being manufactured there, but many GE Aviation officials were also introduced to the Batesville plant’s concept of a “high performance work team.”
The work team operates without direct supervision, instead relying on teamwork among its workers to accomplish its manufacturing goals.
“And the team is then held accountable for its results,” explained human resources leader Justin Whitman.
Only a few other GE Aviation facilities are operating with a similar model, Whitman further explained.
“So we took the best of those models to create the Batesville model,” he said, which is why the work team concept was studied so closely by company leaders
To close out the conference, GE employees rolled up their sleeves and went to work at the Boys and Girls Club in Batesville, and at Batesville Elementary School.
At the Boys and Girls Club, the entire interior of the building was repainted when GE employees spent more than two hours on that task. Other employees assembled playground equipment and made repairs to a bathroom.
GE Aviation purchased the paint and playground equipment, and shipped it to the site, said Boys and Girls Club executive director Belinda Morris.
“I thought it was impressive for their top executives to pitch in and work like they did,” she said.
Morris was also surprised with a ceremonial $10,000 check from the corporation. That donation is expected to fund children’s activities for six months, she said.
At Batesville Elementary, GE employees worked alongside the district’s maintenance department to construct a covering over playground equipment. New blinds were also purchased and hung in classrooms.
The Batesville Composites plant now employs 56 people, including management positions.
More hiring is expected later in 2009, according to Whitman.