Pratt & Whitney expanding into Muscogee Technology Park to service fighter jet engines

Aerospace company Pratt & Whitney, which is relocating work to Columbus from a plant being closed in San Antonio, Texas, will fill a speculative building in Muscogee Technology Park.

When it opens in early 2014, the 105,620-square-foot facility is expected to create 45 jobs initially, according to city development officials. The company took out a building permit for $3,546,354 on Aug. 15 to begin work on the industrial structure.

“This facility will accommodate F100 (jet engine) overhauls as we move forward with relocating the majority of work performed at the Pratt & Whitney San Antonio Operations to other business units including, but not limited to, the Columbus Engine Center in Georgia,” Pratt spokesman Ray Hernandez said Monday via email.

“It is anticipated that the transition will occur using a phased approach completing sometime in the first half of 2014,” he said.

The Columbus Engine Center already has space at Pratt & Whitney’s mammoth complex at 8801 Macon Road, about two miles from 5898 Osceola Court, the official address of the speculative building inside the technology park.

The current center overhauls V2500-A1 and –A5 jet engines, which are used by commercial aircraft. The facility also services PW2000 and F117 engines used by the U.S. military’s C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft.

Pratt & Whitney confirmed in April that its Columbus Engine Center would be picking up some of the work now being performed in San Antonio on the F100 engines used in U.S. fighter jets, specifically F-15 Eagle and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The engines power all of the U.S. Air Force’s F-15s and more than half of F-16s worldwide.

The Texas facility has about 125 on its payroll, with the company saying those losing jobs there would be able to apply for positions in Columbus and elsewhere. Positions include mechanics, inspectors, supervisors and support personnel.

Pratt & Whitney’s Columbus operation already has about 600 employees, Hernandez said, which encompasses the existing engine center and the firm’s Georgia Forgings business.

San Diego-based Western Devcon, a company that develops, constructs and manages office, manufacturing, warehouse and distribution space, is purchasing the speculative building from the Development Authority of Columbus, said Brian Sillitto, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“They’re going to acquire the spec building and lease it to Pratt & Whitney” long term, said Sillitto. “It’s supposed to be 45 jobs to start with and there’s potential for more down the road.”

The chamber executive declined to confirm a purchase price, with the property under contract but an agreement not finalized, something that should take place “in the coming weeks,” he said.

The speculative building has been vacant since its construction in late 2004, with the structure built for use as a carrot to land industrial and technology prospects. Industrial property sales sites list the asking price as $1.8 million for the building made of “structural steel with pre-cast insulated concrete panels.” It can be expanded to 170,000 square feet.

“It’s a great feeling to have new jobs and capital investment go into it,” Sillitto said. “That building was on the market longer than probably anybody in the Development Authority anticipated. But I will tell you it did serve its purpose in getting Columbus on the radar screen of dozens of companies that otherwise might not have looked at Columbus.”

The chamber executive noted the building’s vacancy came with the U.S. and Georgia economies suffering through a major downturn, with other industrial properties hitting the market and landing new tenants. An example is the former Cessna manufacturing facility in the technology park that is now being used by automated teller machine manufacturer NCR Corp.

“As we fast forward and come to present day, there aren’t many available buildings to go into, and Pratt & Whitney identifed that this could be a good potential facility for them,” Sillitto said. “They looked at other facilities, but when it came down to what they needed to be successful, this was a good option for them.”

Tenants now in the 1,300-acre Muscogee Technology Park are Litho-Krome Co., MDV (a division of Nash Finch Co.), Fed-Ex Ground, Menlo Worldwide Logistics and NCR, which has two facilities there. There are about 1,100 acres now available for development.

Pratt & Whitney’s growth in Columbus comes with the company last week announcing it was cutting 400 jobs companywide, including 200 at its two facilities in Milltown and East Hartford, Conn., with its headquarters in the latter city. Though Hernandez would not confirm any overall number or locations, he did say about 575 salaried U.S. employees took voluntary buyouts in July. There have been reports that Pratt’s downsizing this year has topped 1,400 globally.

“In terms of jobs, we continuously assess staffing levels to ensure they are in line with current business and economic conditions,” Hernandez said. “As those needs and conditions change, we make the adjustments necessary to keep our cost structure competitive, while continuing to deliver quality and value to our customers.”

Pratt & Whitney has two engines on the way — the F135 and PurePower — with Hernandez saying that the company’s “long-term outlook is very bright” despite “near-term challenges” that include uncertainty with aftermarket sales and reduced defense spending.

Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of conglomerate United Technologies, opened its Columbus plant in 1983 with an initial investment topping $200 million. Its workforce has fluctuated frequently through the years because of ups and downs in the airline and defense sectors.The company in 2011 invested $19.3 million into an expansion and upgrade at its Columbus plant.

Aside from Pratt & Whitney, Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies also owns Otis elevator and Carrier heating and air conditioning subsidiaries.