Alstom site part of city's manufacturing DNA

Alstom site part of city's manufacturing DNA

June 20th, 2010 by Mike Pare in Businesstopstory

Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Stephane Cai, Chief executive officer with Alstom of Chattanooga, speaks about the company's nuclear turbine production near the Tennessee River loading dock Wednesday.

Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

Chattanooga officials like to say that manufacturing is so ingrained here that it's part of the city's DNA.

The site that Alstom is using to produce new turbines for the nuclear industry itself has a long history of making energy components.

"To see that industry come into an urban setting breathes new life into manufacturing in Chattanooga." said Ray Childers, the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association's outgoing chief. "It's a neat thing."

Alstom officials will mark the opening of its new $300 million plant this week. The plant, which also is doing retrofitting work for existing power plants, is expected to employ about 350 by 2013 when it fully gears up.

A sister adjacent Alstom Power plant that focuses on replacement components for coal-fired plants employs about 600 people.

Stephane Cai, managing director of the Alstom turbine operation, said the manufacturing site has "a glorious past."

About 35 years ago, the tract off Riverfront Parkway then owned by Combustion Engineering had nearly 6,000 workers and was Chattanooga's largest employer.

It served as a manufacturing site for fossil-fueled and nuclear steam generating equipment.

According to a Combustion publication, its energy manufacturing history in Chattanooga dates back to 1888 when James Casey and M.M. Hedges bought property from creditors of a defunct iron company and formed the Casey-Hedges Co. Its business was the making of small boilers.

The following year, Patrick Walsh and Michael Weidner set up the Walsh-Weidner Co. to produce pressure vessels, tanks, fire tube and water tube boilers, the publication said.

In 1928, the two companies consolidated and became known as the Hedges, Walsh, Weidner Co. After that, Combustion purchased the new organization.

In 1956, its Chattanooga facilities occupied 100 acres and over 1.5 million square feet of floor space, according to the publication.

It was in the 1950s when Combustion added a wharf on the Tennessee River to enable the company to take advantage of lower transportation costs.


The river was cited by current Alstom officials as a key reason for building its new plant in Chattanooga.

Mr. Cai said that because of the size of some of the components made at the facility, river transportation makes sense.

But, the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania helped put a damper on nuclear power plant construction and employment at the Chattanooga site dropped.

Combustion was swallowed by Asea Brown Boveri in 1989, which later merged with Alstom.

Now, Alstom wants to be a major player in the resurgence of nuclear power in America.

"With this significant investment, Chattanooga's name is associated with clean power," Mr. Cai said.

Mr. Childers is predicting spin-offs from Alstom's decision to put its new plant here and that of Westinghouse, which recently opened a $21 million boiling water reactor training center and welding institute in the city.

"The (manufacturing) jobs of the future are in high-tech manufacturing," he said. "That's what we're after."

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