CINCINNATI - Ohio is one of at least six states in the running for a new production facility to build ceramic engine parts for the LEAP engine, now under development by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and Snecma of France.
GE spokesman Rick Kennedy said a decision will be announced by June. He declined to provide additional details on the project.
But experts say the southern states of Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina are likely contenders for the new facility. GE has made recent investments in each of those states, which are aggressively offering incentives for new aerospace ventures.
The site search comes at a time of increasing investment in the aviation industry, which is accruing to the region's benefit.
Among recent developments:
- Messier-Bugatti this week announced a $50 million expansion of its Walton plant that makes carbon brakes for jet engines. The expansion is expected to lead to at least 20 new jobs.
- GE Aviation last week announced a $120 million investment at the GE Evendale plant. The money will be spent on two new testing facilities that will test new engine components for the aviation, marine and industrial markets. That investment is over and above the $100 million in capital investments promised at its Evendale headquarters when it won a 15-year job retention tax credit in 2009. While the new investments won't lead to a net gain in GE's local employment of 7,400, the company expects to hire hundreds of new engineers over the next few years to replace those leaving the company through normal attrition.
- Mason-based Makino, which makes cutting tools for the aviation and automotive industries, announced the formation of a new aero engine group this month to court new contracts for jet engine makers like GE Aviation. Makino will hire 75 new engineers this year, boosting employment at its North American headquarters to more than 600.
"It's a big target of ours. Every manufacturer is gearing up," said Don Lane, president and CEO of Makino America. "GE, Snecma, Rolls Royce. They're investing over a number of years. We're gearing up to get pieces of it."
Makino is a Japanese company that acquired Cincinnati's LeBlond Machine Tool company in 1981. It employs about 300 in its Mason manufacturing facility. It also employs hundreds of contract employees and engineers who are based in Mason but travel to Makino locations all over the U.S. and Mexico. Lane said the company boosted revenue by 28 percent to $435 million in its fiscal year, which ended March 31.
Manufacturers of aerospace products and parts added 200 jobs in the Cincinnati region, according to a labor market report released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. The region's 9,800 aerospace jobs represent 9.4 percent of its 104,440 manufacturing jobs.
"Aerospace continues to be a very important part of the Ohio economy," said Doug Moormann, vice president at Development Strategies Group, a lobbying and economic-development consulting firm downtown. Moormann is a former economic development specialist for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, which could not be reached. JobsOhio, the state's lead economic development agency, did not respond to requests for information on the site search.
Kennedy said the new production facility is part of a series of steps GE is taking to bring its LEAP engine to production. The high-efficiency turbofan engine was introduced in 2008 and has racked up orders in multi-billion dollar chunks. Kennedy said GE has a backlog of 4,500 engines awaiting production.
Moormann said Ohio has a strong case to make for the new ceramics matrix composites facility, which will make engine parts that can withstand high levels of heat and pressure in the new LEAP engines.
GE's Cincinnati "suppliers have a high level of expertise in developing replacement parts, he said. In Dayton, they're doing leading edge research on composite materials. One would think that provides an advantage to this region to attract jobs here."
But Moormann and others say Ohio has formidable competition from states like Alabama, Mississippi and the Carolinas.
"They're all attractive because they're all right to work states and their very aggressive with incentives," said Jim McGraw, an economic development consultant and corporate partner at the Keating Muething & Klekamp law firm downtown.
"Fortunately for us, we have plenty of critical mass, which really helps build on itself. I think for us as a business cluster, it's going to stay very strong."