By the Numbers: Roper Corp.'s Expansion
165 - truckloads of concrete
200 - tons of steel
95 - truckloads of gravel
1 - new power press
18,000 - square feet
Source: GE Appliances
Employees at Roper Corp. in LaFayette, Ga., blasted patriotic country music and waved red, white and blue pompoms while they waited for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to arrive Friday to recognize the plant's expansion.
Moments before Deal's helicopter landed at the GE-owned plant, the employees - each wearing a red T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "America at Work" - did the wave, whooping and hollering and laughing.
They were celebrating the $88 million investment GE is making in the plant, which added four new wall oven lines and created 90 jobs at Roper.
"Industry doesn't come and industry does not expand unless they have the quality workforce it takes to make them profitable," Deal said when he arrived, to cheers. "And you've proven this is a place where they can do exactly that."
Roper's expansion is one piece of a nationwide push by GE Appliances to bring jobs back to the United States - insourcing instead of outsourcing. The company expects to spend $1 billion on the move.
"There are a couple of reasons we've been able to insource our work," GE Roper President Scott Ossewaarde said. "We've learned how to make our products more efficiently. We've found we can do it at less cost than what we were paying our suppliers to do it for us, which makes us more competitive."
The plant's 1,500 employees have made changes at every level to increase efficiency, Ossewaarde said, like replenishing supply lines every half-hour instead of stocking a day's worth of parts.
Roper's 18,000-square-foot expansion is a reflection of the wider U.S. manufacturing picture, Ossewaarde said. New orders for U.S. manufactured durable goods increased by 4.2 percent - that's $9.9 billion - in June, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"Across the country, as manufacturers, we've been getting better and better over the past several years, and at the same time, the cost of manufacturing overseas and the cost of transporting those goods have gone steadily up, to the point where it now makes sense to invest in the United States," he said.
But despite the increase, foreign imports captured 37.5 percent of the advanced manufactured products market in 2011, according to a report released by the U.S. Business and Industry Council earlier this year. That's up from 24.5 percent in 1997.
"The analysis strongly indicates that, contrary to widespread optimism about an American industrial renaissance, domestic manufacturing's highest value sectors keep falling behind foreign-based rivals," research fellow Alan Tonelson wrote in the report.
Manufacturing production hit the lowest levels in decades during the Great Recession, and recent progress hasn't brought production back to pre-Recession levels.
But the GE employees gathered at Roper Friday kept the mood light and celebratory, cutting the ribbon for the new expansion by operating the plant's newest power press, a machine that stamps steel.
Deal joked that he'd buy a GE oven except that his wife says she's done cooking, and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he just renovated his kitchen with all GE appliances. The crowd roared approval as he spoke.
"GE is the right company, in the right place, at the right time for Georgia," he said.
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