A major piece of Pratt & Whitney’s expansion project in Columbus is about to ramp up, with the aerospace company now starting construction on a 276,301-square-foot facility on Macon Road on the city’s east side.
The price tag on the construction is $31.3 million, according to an Aug. 24 building permit, with Evans General Contractors performing the work at 8987 Macon Road.
“That’s the new facility for the engine overhaul business, and it’s the lion’s share of the real property investments, although they will continue to make some improvements on the forging operation as well,” said Bill Murphy, executive vice president of economic development at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
“The real big investment on the forging operation is when they put in the new press, and that should be happening late this year, but more likely early next year,” he said.
The new facilities are part of a $386 million expansion of the local Pratt & Whitney complex announced in February by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office in Atlanta. Aside from new automated machinery and equipment upgrades, the project includes a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for a new isothermal forge press, which will make turbine disks and compressors for Pratt & Whitney jet engines.
The company in February said the money is being spent to increase parts production and maintenance services, while reducing costs for the company’s engine programs. Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew Bates on Wednesday did not have a timeline for completion of the large engine overhaul facility.
East Hartford, Conn.-based Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Farmington, Conn.-based United Technologies, has pledged to hire more than 500 additional employees in Columbus as the expansion unfolds. At last count, it had about 1,200 people on its payroll.
The firm’s online “careers” page showed more than 70 job listings Wednesday, with a wide range of high-paying positions, including machining engineer, forge engineer, project engineer, invoice analyst, repair development engineer, mechanic, quality inspection team member, inspector, sonic inspector and materials/logistics supervisor.
Murphy said he believes the Pratt & Whitney expansion is one of the largest projects in the region since South Korea-based Kia Motors built its massive auto assembly plant in West Point, Ga., launching production in late 2009.
He attributed the local effort to secure Pratt’s future presence in the city to plenty of hard work by many players. Aside from the state and the chamber, the Columbus Development Authority, the Muscogee County School District and the Technical College System of Georgia all were involved, he said. The state’s QuickStart facility in Columbus is now being renovated for the training of new employees.
“It’s just real rewarding to see all of the hard work that the community did finally coming to fruition with the new buildings being erected and new equipment being brought to the site and, as importantly, all the new hires the company has started doing as part of this process, and will continue to do over the next three or four years,” Murphy said.
Pratt & Whitney has expanded several times since coming to the city in 1984. The new jobs it has pledged to create locally will be in the areas of administrative, supervisory, technical support, production and maintenance.
Last summer, Pratt & Whitney said that the Columbus Engine Center is the first site in the world to handle maintenance of the PurePower jet engines, also referred to as PW1000G engines. Other engines it is performing maintenance chores on include the PW1100G-JM, the PW1500G, the V2500, the PW2000, the F117 and the F100.
In early 2016, the company began construction in Columbus on a new engine test facility to complement the existing test area. Work at the Columbus Engine Center includes disassembly of jet engines, inspection of them, reassembly and testing.
Pratt & Whitney’s effort comes with the Columbus metro area posting an unemployment rate of 6 percent in July, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. A year ago, the local figure was 6.7 percent. The 6 percent gives Columbus and Albany the second-highest jobless rate in the state, behind 6.3 percent in Rome. The lowest unemployment rate in July is Gainesville’s 4.2 percent.