North Carolina Economic Development Guide


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36 North Carolina Economic Development Guide Case study T he future of powered fl ight is unfolding again in North Carolina, 450 miles from the sand dunes that the Wright brothers made famous. Inside a new, $125 million plant near Asheville, workers craft parts from a ceramic-matrix composite that is far harder than titanium. These components will operate in temperatures twice as hot as lava for tens of thousands of hours, vastly increasing the ef ciency and longevity of jet engines. A little more than 100 miles to the northeast, in the Ashe County community of West Jef erson, a similar plant recently underwent a $65 million expansion. Inspectors apply dye to jet-engine parts machined here by about 160 coworkers. It glows under fl uorescent lights, revealing any microscopic fl aw, which can have gigantic consequences. "Possibly a quarter of a million dollars," says Randy Hobbs, the executive responsible for the two plants. "We have tolerances down to a couple thousandths of an inch, and rotating parts are the most critical features in an engine when you talk about fl ight safety. You can't af ord to scrap one, but more importantly, you certainly can't have one make its way into the fi eld." Hobbs manages Evendale, Ohio-based GE Aviation's rotating-parts value stream. He presided over much of the company's recent $200 million investment in Tar Heel plant projects. That includes parent company Fairfi eld, Conn.-based General Electric Co. factories in Wilmington and Durham. The West Jef erson and Asheville plants, however, have a unique Evendale, Ohio-based GE Aviation recently opened a $125 million factory in western North Carolina, where community colleges train its workers to make jet- engine parts from space-age materials. Workforce is one reason manufacturers are fi nding success in a region known for tourism. Photo courtesy of GE Aviation.

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