WALTON, Ky. - Global trade is a hot button issue in this year’s presidential campaign. But it was also the starter button for the $100 million expansion that Safran Landing Systems celebrated this week.
“The expansion will allow the Walton plant to increase production of new and refurbished carbon brakes to achieve a significant increase in our growth,” said Safran CEO Vincent Mascre at the project’s groundbreaking Wednesday. “It will continue to grow Kentucky’s largest export category, which is aerospace parts.”
The 68,000-square-foot expansion will bring 80 new jobs to Walton, boosting total employment to 380. It is the fifth expansion in Safran’s 17-year history in Northern Kentucky, a U.S. headquarters that the Paris-based company established because of its relationship with G.E. Aviation. Mascre said the Walton plant has become a global leader in materials handling and cutting-tool innovations, exporting new ideas to other Safran plants in France and Malaysia.
“You make us look good,” Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin told a group of about 100 Safran employees and suppliers at the groundbreaking. “We are known for making exceptional products, engineering and manufacturing exceptional products. We are known for this because of folks like you. And you have set a high standard.”
In an interview with WCPO, Mascre said Safran considered a site in South Carolina before expanding in Walton. He said Northern Kentucky’s work force is reliable and efficient and the company benefits from a training program with Gateway Technical College “to make sure we have people who are skilled enough to operate such a complex industrial facility.”
One new area of focus at the plant involves the use of machines – not employees – to move heavy parts. The goal is to achieve “one million less handlings” during the manufacturing process.
“This initiative will cut down the number of times the employee handles the product and further reduce the possibility for injury on the job, easing the strain on our employees,” he said. “ It is a good example of how this team here is working smarter towards operational excellence and innovation.”
Census data shows Kentucky exported $8.7 billion in civilian aircraft engines and parts in 2015, up 12 percent from the prior year. Aerospace parts represented 31 percent of all Kentucky exports. A report by the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration said foreign-owned companies employed 100,700 people in 2013 and 4,420 Kentucky companies exported products that year.
Mascre is aware of the campaign rhetoric about job-killing trade deals and new restrictions on immigration. But he also said globalization means more business travelers, more planes sold and more braking systems needed.
“The fact that people travel for business, for leisure, it’s a key driver for growth for us,” he said. “If there is a barrier (to that travel) it would probably put at risk this growth. So I hope for an open and peaceful world, which is very good for our company and for our jobs.”