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Photo by Dave Flessner / Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp welcomes GE Appliances to Murray County at the opening of the company's Southern Logistics Center

CRANDALL, Georgia — Just a couple of miles from the new Appalachian Regional Port in Northwest Murray County, more than a dozen automated, self-driving carts and 50 new employees help move thousands of appliance parts around GE Appliances newest logistics center.

The giant 504,000-square-foot concrete warehouse, which cost $32 million to erect on a rural mountainous site in Northwest Murray County, is nearly 350 miles from the Port of Savannah where the foreign-made parts enter the United States. But officials of GE Appliances, which China's biggest home appliance maker Haier Group bought in 2016, insist the site is ideal for delivery of the parts to GE Appliances nine production plants and warehouses scattered across Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky.

"This helps us shorten our supply chain since our nine plants are located in this vicinity," CEO of GE Appliances Kevin Nolan said Monday during a ribbon cutting for the new logistics center.

The Southern Logistics Center is projected to boost efficiency by 30% and eliminate more than 3 million long-haul trucking miles.

Harry Chase, director of central materials for GE Appliances, said GE has streamlined and automated much of its supply chain in recent years and the appliance maker is now able to deliver appliances to 90% of the homes and businesses in the country within 24 hours of when a customer makes an order.

"In the past, everything coming in from Asian would go through Seattle where we would ship it to Chicago and then truck it down to our plants (usually through the company's 600,000-square-foot warehouse in Shepherdsville, Kentucky)," Chase said.

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Photo by Dave Flessner / Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and GE Appliances President Kevin Nolan, center, cut the ribbon to open the company's Southern Logistics Center while Illya Copeland of the Murray County Industrial Developement Authority, Grent Brantley of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, GE Appliances Chief Operating Officer Melanie Cook, Murray County sole commissioner Greg Hogan and Georgia Ports Authority Chairman Will McKnight, from left, look on.

The new logistics center, combined with a new warehouse GE is adding in Cleveland, Tennessee by April, allows the company to move goods made in Asia from the plant to GE's assembly usually in 32 days, officials said. Comprehensive Logistics Co., Inc. (CLI), a third-party logistics company, operates the Southern Logistics Center under an agreement with and on behalf of GE Appliances. Staffing at the new logistics center is expected to grow to 100 within a year.

GE Appliances (GEA) builds more than 2,300 appliances per hour in nine U.S. plants, which requires the purchase, storage and distribution of more than 2 billion parts and components.

At GE's Roper facility in Lafayette, Georgia, the company is investing $75 million and expanding its employment to 2,000 employees to boost production of its ranges and wall ovens.

"The market for appliances has been somewhat soft over the past couple of years, but we're investing in the business and feel good about the future," said Nolan, who said the company has managed to keep its parts and supply chain going for full production.

About 70% of the appliances made by GE are assembled in the U.S., officials said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who toured the new logistics facility Monday, said the Appalachian Regional Port is proving its value in attracting warehouse and distribution jobs to Northern Georgia. While Atlanta remains the economic engine of the state, rural communities like Crandall are vital to the overall growth in the economy, which has pushed Georgia's jobless rate this year to a half century low, Kemp said.

Murray County sole commissioner Greg Hogan said he looks for more development around the new inland port.

"This is not the end, this is just the first step," Hogan said. "I know this virus going around has people slowed down a little bit, but it too shall pass."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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