BY JAMES SHEA
PINEY FLATS, Tenn. –– After getting more than $1 million in economic incentives, Bell Helicopter has chosen Sullivan County for an expansion over two other production facilities, economic development officials announced Thursday.
The move is expected to add 125 new jobs. Roughly 250 people currently work at the facility in the Tri-County Industrial Park.
“Bell Helicopter is a good employer,” said Sullivan County Commissioner Dwight King, who helped secure the expansion. “They have good benefits.”
Earlier this month, the Tennessee State Funding Board approved an $866,003 FastTrack Infrastructure Development grant for the project. The grant also includes $195,000 from Sullivan County, and a $109,271 contribution from Bell Helicopter.
The company is expected to invest an additional $10.1 million in land and equipment on the project.
Bell Helicopter plans to purchase 41 acres from the county inside the industrial park as well as a 150,000-square-foot building that is adjacent to the current facility. The building is currently occupied by BedInABox.
The infrastructure grant funds will be used to grade the 41 acres and build between 10 and 15 helicopter landing pads, Sullivan Networks Partnership Director of Development Jack Lawson said.
The building will be remodeled and hangar doors will be added during the expansion.
The company customizes helicopters at the Piney Flats facility. It produces shell helicopters at a plant in Texas and flies the machines to Piney Flats. Employees add custom electronics, seating, upholstery and paint.
“They are literally called green [when they arrive],” Lawson said. “They have just a primer coat. They don’t have any electronics in it. Most helicopters are customized for the customers.”
Bell also received a $137,500 FastTrack Job Assistance grant. The money will reimburse the company for expenses it incurs training new employees.
Lawson said engineers at Bell and Networks are working on the final plans for the site. He expects to break ground on the project in February and the work to be finished within six months.
“We will probably bid that out in January,” Lawson said.
Bell Helicopter representatives said the involvement of state and local officials played a key role in the company’s decision to expand locally.
“We continue to see a growing demand for commercial helicopters, and Bell Helicopter’s anticipated production requirements are outpacing the size of our current facility in Piney Flats,” Eric Cardinali, Bell’s executive vice president for customer support and services, said in a written statement on the project. “Expanding our existing facility allows us to implement new technologies and processes to ensure a high quality customization and delivery process for our customers.”