BUTTE – Boeing CEO Jim McNerney on Tuesday announced a $35 million expansion of its Helena manufacturing site and the hiring of 20 to 25 more employees there.
McNerney made the announcement surrounded by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and Gov. Steve Bullock at the Economic Development Summit at Montana Tech in Butte.
The expansion will add 55,000 square feet of manufacturing space, increasing the size of the Boeing Helena facility near the Helena Regional Airport by about one-third, to 167,099 square feet. Construction will begin on the south side of the current facilities, and it is expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2014.
“We do take great pride in the operations in Montana,” McNerney said, with the largest being its fabrication plant in Helena.
The Helena plant workers are involved in the design and manufacturing of body cores, which join the bodies of planes to the wings. The Montana facility manufactures complex parts for the Boeing 737, 747, 767 and 787 models.
“Our workforce in Helena has impressed us over and over again,” McNerney said.
He also noted that both Baucus and Bullock are Helena High School graduates.
Baucus brought a previous Boeing CEO to Helena more than a decade ago to show him Summit Aeronautics Group of Helena and see if it could get on Boeing’s manufacturing bid list. The effort has been successful. Boeing bought Summit in 2010 and renamed it Boeing Helena.
The senator praised McNerney’s announcement.
“Time and time again, we’ve seen that when we get the right folks in Montana, they choose to stay, invest and grow Montana jobs,” Baucus said in a statement. “Boeing knows firsthand what Montana has to offer, so Boeing’s decision to expand shows the world Montana is a great place to invest in state-of-the-art manufacturing.”
Employees at Boeing Helena were scheduled to watch McNerney’s speech live from Helena via video streaming.
At a later news conference, McNerney elaborated on his announcement and what kind of work the Boeing Helena employees do.
“They work on sort of highly complex machine parts from a variety of hard metals,” he said. “These are hard things to do. It requires precision manufacturing and tooling that is good, and workers that are trained more than just as a regular factory worker. They need more technical capability than that.”
Boeing already has made the investment to expand the Helena facility.
“And we’re looking for the people and we’re training the people,” he said of Boeing Helena expansion. “It is a major increase in what we do here. It’s significant.”
He was asked what Montanans can do to support aeronautics, high-tech and related industries.
“First of all, we would encourage that,” McNerney said. “As I pointed out, there are people that are technically trained in this state and there are more and more of them. The workforces that we find here are hardworking workforces. They have the right set of values that we want in our company.
“So it’s a matter of the entrepreneurs coming to us. Maybe we should reach out more. We think we are reaching out, but we should probably reach out more.”