Alstom's new plant in Chattanooga is a $300 million bet on the rebirth of the nuclear industry in America and positions the city and region for a big payoff, officials said Thursday.
"We're confident the ramp-up of this facility will create great opportunities for the local economy," said Patrick Kron, chief executive for the Paris-based Alstom.
With several hundred customers, plant employees and officials watching, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, at the plant's formal opening, Mr. Kron said plans are to make the project "a triple win."
Not only will Alstom benefit from its biggest worldwide investment in decades, he said, but so will its clients in the United States as well as the Chattanooga area economy.
"We don't open such factories every couple of weeks. It's very important not only by the magnitude of the project but its strategic importance," Gov. Bredesen said about the Riverfront Parkway facility near the heart of downtown.
Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen speaks during the grand opening event of Alstom Chattanooga on Thursday.
The plant will hire 350 people by 2013 and put Alstom's total employment in Chattanooga at nearly 1,000, including those at an existing boiler repair business.
Alstom Power President Philippe Joubert said the new factory, which also will service fossil fuel plants, can produce the world's largest turbines. Chattanooga is at the center of "great and important events for the industry," he said.
"Why not be emotional when you see the facility and when you see what it means and when you see the potential?" he asked.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said he's "giddy about the nuclear industry coming back to Chattanooga."
While not discounting Volkswagen's $1 billion Chattanooga production plant, Mr. Littlefield said Alstom and the energy sector over time have the potential of "being a bigger deal" than the German automaker when it comes to impacting the economy.
Guy Chardon, Alstom Power Thermal Product's senior vice president, said the plant is "a clear signal" to its customers in the United States that the company is confident about a nuclear renaissance in the United States.
"There are plenty of reasons to believe so," Mr. Chardon said.
The Environmental Protection Agency projects the need for 187 new nuclear plants by 2050, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Although no new nuclear plants have been built in the past 30 years, 17 utilities have filed applications with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build up to 26 nuclear reactors by 2018.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is preparing to add another reactor at its Watts Bar Nuclear Plant by 2012 and may add a new reactor at its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site in Alabama within the next decade.
Trevor Hamilton, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of economic development, said the location of Alstom plant near downtown gives opportunities to market the city to businesses that supply Alstom.
BY THE NUMBERS
* $300 million -- Plant investment
* 350 -- Jobs
* 350,000 -- Square feet under roof
KEY PLANT PRODUCTS
* Steam and gas turbines for nuclear and fossil fuel plants
* Turbogenerator components
* Moisture separator reheaters
"Having this significant investment helps us sell (the city) to other energy-related companies," he said.
RETURN TO RIVER
Mr. Chardon, who was in on the selection of Chattanooga for Alstom's new plant, said the site's proximity to the Tennessee River was key.
The power plant components Alstom will make are big and heavy, and shipping by barge from Chattanooga is a huge cost and logistical advantage, he said.
"We can reach 80 percent of all the nuclear power plants and potential sites," Mr. Chardon said.
Most of the remaining locations for its products are in California, he said, and the company can still access seaports to reach those.
Mr. Chardon noted that Combustion Engineering, an Alstom predecessor that about 30 to 40 years ago employed almost 6,000 people in Chattanooga, used the site for river transportation.
To handle the huge pieces of equipment, Alstom has upgraded an on-river barge dock that has a lifting capacity of up to 1,000 tons, according to the company.
In addition, Mr. Kron said, the 350,000-square-foot plant has good access to its supply chain, and the city has the skilled labor to work at the state-of-the-art factory.
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Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...