RUAG Space USA’s new production facility near Decatur could go beyond providing rocket components for United Launch Alliance, raising the possibility of additional jobs at the site.
With 25 workers at the site currently, RUAG is expected to bring 100 jobs to the facility by 2019 and 150 total jobs by 2020 with an average annual salary of $100,000.
“We’re bidding on other operations to bring into this building and other work, so there’s a plan to grow beyond that,” Director of Business Development Bruce Morris said during a launch ceremony at the facility Wednesday. “I can’t give you an exact number, because it depends on which contracts you win.”
RUAG Aerospace, a Switzerland-based company that has provided ULA with composite rocket components for years, announced plans in 2015 to locate a manufacturing operation at ULA’s plant on Red Hat Road.
The company’s composite payload fairings serve as the drag-reducing nosecones for ULA’s Atlas V launch system, and RUAG is slated to produce similar components for ULA’s larger Vulcan launch system set for a maiden flight in 2019.
A tour of the facility Wednesday showed most of the manufacturing equipment had not been installed, much of it slated for installation by the end of the year.
Morris said they plan to begin production of their first American-made payload fairing for ULA in January.
To lure the estimated $30.6 million investment by RUAG, the Decatur Industrial Development Board abated $980,000 in state and county property taxes over a 10-year period, the Alabama Industrial Development Initiative agreed to provide $1.2 million worth of pre-employment training, and the state of Alabama agreed to a $650,000 discretionary incentive.
Within two years, RUAG is slated to be pumping $10 million a year in payroll into the local economy, not including benefits such as health insurance.
RUAG has made a commitment to hiring American workers at the plant.
“The commitment is not about preferring American workers over Swiss or anything like that,” Morris said. “The commitment is to show that we’re a U.S. company, hiring U.S. employees as part of being able to bid on U.S. aerospace industry contracts.”
That’s good news for local officials eager to reverse downward trending population estimates. The latest U.S. Census data shows Decatur lost 611 residents (1.1 percent) from 2010 to July 2016 compared to a 15.9 percent increase for Athens.
Morgan County's overall population was flat, falling 0.4 percent over the same time period.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said attracting new workers to settle in Decatur and Morgan County depends upon offering an environment to attract them, including quality of life amenities such as bike trails, quality housing, and especially good schools.
That could make the search for a new Decatur City Schools superintendent even more important as that figure could play one of the most important roles in the city, and arguably the county, for the next several years, he said.
“Decatur City Schools is under the gun and needs to be more competitive with other schools systems in neighboring counties, i.e. Madison, i.e. Athens, even Limestone County to an extent,” Orr said.