• 2007 - Alstom announces new plant
• 2008 - Work starts on 350,000-square-foot factory; Alstom awarded local tax breaks
• June 2010 - Plant officially opens
• March 2011 - Alstom ships first unit
At 160 tons, the first delivery by Alstom Power's new Chattanooga plant was a big one.
Alstom shipped this week its first unit made at the $300 million factory - a replacement rotor for a turbine at a nuclear power plant in the northern United States.
"It's the first rotor we've made in the USA," said Stephane Cai, who's overseeing Alstom's turbine operation on Riverfront Parkway. "It's a big satisfaction."
France-based Alstom, which officially opened the local plant last June, has hired more than 200 employees so far, he said. The facility, which is making steam and gas turbines along with components for the power industry, still aims to hire up to 350 workers by 2013, Cai said.
While the economic downturn hit Alstom, he said the business has "a pretty strong backlog for the immediate future."
Orders for the first half of last year were lower than expected but bounced back to close 2010, said Cai, who also has become chief operating officer for Alstom Power's nuclear business with an office in Paris.
Tim Brown, Alstom's communications director for North America, said the new Chattanooga operation has a lot of flexibility.
"It can work on new or existing equipment for existing plants," he said, adding the factory is ramping up operations for natural gas facilities.
Cai said he is "pretty optimistic" for the medium and long-term with hopes the talked-about nuclear power renaissance in the U.S. takes place.
He said the rotor that Alstom produced will help extend the life cycle of the nuclear power plant. The rotor is pushed by pressurized heat and steam to help generate power. Cai declined to give the cost of the rotor.
He said the plant continues to work on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Also, Alstom is supporting the city in its efforts to extend the Tennessee Riverwalk, Cai said.
"We favor the design where it passes the plant on the river," he said.
Alstom also has an adjacent boiler operation that employs between 500 and 600 people.