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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Workers build stoves on the assembly line at the GE Appliances Roper factory last October.

GE Appliances' Roper oven plant in LaFayette, Georgia, has become the company's largest single manufacturing facility, and officials plan to hire up to 150 more people to meet surging demand.

"We've definitely seen significant volumes," Lois Crandall, the Roper plant manager, said about production during the coronavirus pandemic. "We have double-digit increases right now."

She said the plant already is over 2,100 employees after hiring grew by 100 people in 2020, which she called the biggest year ever for the longtime factory.

The pandemic, which has kept a lot of people at home, is what heated up production, Crandall said.

"People aren't spending money on big vacations. They're not taking trips," she said. "They have extra cash and want to rebuild their kitchens."

Earl Jones, GE-Appliances' associate general counsel for government relations, said the company has completed previously announced investments of $193 million in its Georgia facilities, which included at Roper and at its logistics center in Murray County near the Appalachian Regional Port.

"I don't think we're finished," he said.

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https://careers.geappliances.com/roper-corporation-jobs

A new economic report commissioned by the company highlighted the impact of its sustained investments in U.S. manufacturing and technology for 2020. China-based Haier Group purchased General Electric's appliances segment in 2016.

The report said $313 million in new major product and manufacturing investment announcements is creating jobs and supporting families across the country.

"With suppliers in all 50 states, 13,000 employees across the country and an additional 62,000 employed as a result of its economic activities, GEA is among the few companies so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of America," the report said.

The total U.S. economic impact of the company's activities from 2018 to 2020 was put at $26 billion annually. The GE Appliances report cited its headquarters, research and development centers and other facilities in Louisville, Kentucky, where it employs about 6,500 people.

In West Tennessee, GE Appliances employs 400 people at a refrigerator and freezer plant in Selmer.

Crandall said Chattanooga is a key logistics center and it's strategic for the company to be around the city.

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Staff file photo / Roxanne Adams performs tests on stoves as they move down the assembly line at the GE Appliances' Roper plant in LaFayette, Georgia, in 2019.

At the LaFayette plant, she cited the company's wellness center and health care offerings, noting there were 32,000 visits in 2019.

"That has been super-critical in a pandemic environment," Crandall said.

Early last year after the coronavirus hit, there were some worker complaints at the factory, which stayed open as an essential business while others ventures went on lock down.

But, GE Appliances said the health and safety of its employees is "our number one priority."

"Beginning weeks ago, we took unprecedented steps to modify our factories and work habits to align with (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines and protect employees during the COVID-19 pandemic," said spokeswoman MarySusan Abell at the time.

While the base starting wage at the plant is $14.30 per hour, Crandall said, the company helps employees learn and move up in the business.

"You can make a career and really make a significant impact," the plant manager said.

At the factory, Crandall said officials are making changes to achieve more volumes out of its production lines.

She said the company is actively working with the state related to investments in future growth.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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