Work has started on a $115 million expansion of the GE Appliances refrigerator plant in Decatur that will bring greater production capacity and more jobs, said its manager.
The investment in a new building and equipment was announced by the company in late June at the facility on Point Mallard Drive Southeast that opened in 1977.
“(The project) will add over 250 jobs to the facility,” said Renee Story, the plant's manager, and enable it to increase production capacity by roughly 25 percent.
“It will allow us to have flexibility in our production lines in order to meet the changing demands of our customers,” said Story, who’s been with GE Appliances for more than 23 years, most of that time in Decatur.
Story in June said the plant consistently produces more than 1 million top-mounted freezer refrigerators a year. The company does not release more detailed production figures, said Julie Wood, a spokeswoman with GE Appliances, which was acquired by Haier Group in 2016.
Site work, including the installation of utilities and stormwater piping, has been completed for the new 40,000-square-foot building that will be on the northeast corner of the site, Story said.
“We’re anticipating steel to arrive in late November,” Story said. “We expect to be done (with construction) in the first quarter” of 2019.
She expects production will start in the new building in roughly two phases, around midyear in 2019 and the end of the year.
The plant produces GE and Hotpoint brand top-freezer refrigerators.
Story said the plant now has about 980 full-time hourly employees and 54 full-time salaried employees, and a fluctuating number of contract workers.
It’s the largest employer in Morgan County for a single location, according to the Morgan County Economic Development Association
“It’s an impressive event when one of your largest, legacy manufacturing companies chooses to make such a substantial investment and add hundreds of new jobs in Morgan County,” said Jeremy Nails, MCEDA’s president and CEO. “This expansion helps ensure their presence in our community for years to come.”
Wood said the majority of the 250 new positions will be entry-level production employees, with some salaried employees and technical support.
Applications are being accepted for the first round of manufacturing production jobs for the expansion.
Initially “we intend to hire at least 50 employees,” Story said. “We would love for them to start mid-January or so.”
About 50 more employees will be hired every couple of months to reach the 250-employee mark, according to Story.
Since May, GE Appliances has invested more than $475 million in expansions, creating more than 1,000 new U.S. jobs, Wood said. These investments are part of the company’s growth strategy to become the No. 1 appliance manufacturer in the United States, she said.
“The Decatur plant is an exemplary plant in many ways,” Wood said. “It’s the perfect place for this new investment.”
The Decatur plant was one of 12 U.S. manufacturing facilities selected as 2018 finalists in the trade publication IndustryWeek’s Best Plants awards competition. It was recently re-certified as an Occupational Safety and Health Administration Voluntary Protection Program Star site. That's the highest award in the program that promotes work-site safety and health.