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A robust aerospace industry, a positive business climate and unique workforce solutions attract Bell Helicopter’s new helicopter assembly facility to Lafayette.  

Bell Helicopter

Aircraft manufacturer seeks ideal fit for critical product launch 

In June 2013, Bell Helicopter created a splash at the Paris Air Show. By the next year, company officials said, they would achieve first flight for an all-new aircraft to re-establish leadership in the Short Light Single, or SLS, market.

Bell Helicopter created the SLS category – denoting short distance, light payload, single engine – in the 1960s. Beginning that decade, the Bell 206 JetRanger and related models propelled to company to unprecedented success in commercial and military markets, with more than 7,400 Bell 206 Series helicopters delivered to date.

Though the company continued to produce the larger, seven-seat Bell 206L4 for commercial markets and the related Kiowa Warrior for the U.S. Army, customers lobbied for the JetRanger’s return to the SLS market. Bell’s production in that category, reflecting economic trends, had been on hiatus for three years.

Now, with customer demand building and the dramatic unveiling of prototype designs in Paris, one large question loomed: Where would Bell build the SLS?

Louisiana’s aviation experience makes compelling case 

Founded in 1935, with more than 35,000 helicopters delivered to customers around the world, Bell Helicopter continues a legacy of high-quality helicopter performance as a member of the Textron Inc. family of businesses. For the SLS project, the company might have chosen one of its existing manufacturing facilities in North America, where Bell Helicopter builds aircraft near its Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters; in Amarillo, Texas; and near Montreal.

Company officials, however, opened their site selection process to competitive offers from other states, and Louisiana emerged on Bell Helicopter’s radar. South Louisiana represents a significant hub for the helicopter industry, serving offshore oil and gas companies. PHI Inc. of Lafayette, La., ERA Helicopters LLC of Lake Charles, La., and Houston-based Bristow Group – each with multiple Louisiana locations – contribute heavily to the aerospace industry in Louisiana. Their aviation activity in Louisiana provides key transportation services, flight and safety training, parts manufacturing, maintenance services and exterior painting services. 

Louisiana is home to aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul centers, with AAR Corp. and Northrop Grumman operating major MRO facilities at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, and Aviation Exteriors providing world-class aircraft painting solutions in New Iberia. The state owns an extensive history in the space program, with major components of many NASA programs having been built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, including the first stage of the Saturn V rocket, external fuel tanks for the Space Shuttle program, and current development of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.

Given Louisiana’s extensive aerospace history, the Bell SLS project would cap the state’s accomplishments with its first modern-era, full assembly site. In May 2013, officials from LED and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority visited company headquarters in Fort Worth to discuss expansion possibilities in the state. Two months later, LED began discussions with Bell Helicopter about a potential assembly facility in Louisiana.

Workforce training, new hangar facility attract Bell Helicopter  

Wherever Bell Helicopter placed its SLS assembly facility, a quality workforce would figure prominently in the decision. Louisiana addressed the skilled labor quotient by offering the comprehensive workforce solutions of LED FastStart®, ranked the No. 1 state workforce training program in the U.S.

As a manufacturer in a target industry, Bell Helicopter would receive FastStart services at no cost, gaining recruitment, screening, training and orientation services in a customized business plan. Skilled helicopter assembly operators would be well-prepared from day one.

As Bell Helicopter showed interest in the Lafayette Regional Airport, Louisiana offered to fund construction of a hangar assembly facility that would be owned by the airport and fit the company's project needs. The State of Louisiana would pay $26.3 million toward construction of the assembly plant, with Bell Helicopter leasing the 82,300-square-feet structure on a 14.5-acre site with access to major thoroughfares.

Louisiana offered an incentive package that included performance-based grants of $4 million to support Bell’s lease of the hangar, $3.8 million for infrastructure developments and equipment and $200,000 for relocation expenses.

The competitive offer in an aerospace-rich setting and Louisiana’s highly ranked business climate presented Bell Helicopter with a clear and compelling choice.

Lafayette selected for assembly of new Bell SLS helicopter

In December 2013, Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison joined Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state and local leaders to announce the company’s formal selection of Louisiana and the Lafayette Regional Airport site.

Bell Helicopter committed to creating 115 new direct jobs, with an average salary of more than $55,000 per year, plus benefits. Bell also will maintain 63 existing jobs in the Lafayette area at a pair of helicopter component and service operations.

The company will invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling following construction of the new hangar beginning in 2014. Hiring of the helicopter assembly workforce will begin in 2015, and full commercial assembly operations of the new helicopter – the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X – are expected to start by 2016, following certification of the facility and the new aircraft.

“We have taken this challenge seriously and are focused on delivering an aircraft that is not only competitively priced, but offers features and capabilities customers have come to expect from Bell Helicopter,” Garrison said. “We considered several sites for this new facility, and Louisiana’s proposal demonstrated the state’s commitment to economic development. The state’s established aerospace industry and exceptional workforce training programs were also key factors in our decision to make Louisiana a partner in expanding our manufacturing footprint.”

Related Incentive

LED FastStart®

Provides workforce recruitment, screening and training to new and expanding Louisiana companies at no cost.

Key Industry

aerospace

Unrivaled infrastructure, highly skilled workforce and competitive incentives are fueling Louisiana's thriving aerospace industry.

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