MOBILE, Alabama - The final assembly line in Mobile will become the "epicenter of commercial activity" for operations in the United States, Airbus Americas Chairman Allan McArtor said Friday.
"Alabama is going to be our industrial home," McArtor said Friday in Birmingham while speaking to an editorial board meeting with al.com about the company's plans for hiring and the construction of the $600 million assembly plant slated for Mobile's Brookley Aeroplex.
He also offered the most detailed look to date at the integral role the Alabama facility will play in Airbus' aggressive 20-year growth strategy and emphasized the impact the plant will have not just on Mobile and the Gulf Coast but on all of the 45 states in its current supply chain supporting some 250,000 U.S. jobs.
"It's definitely going to be bigger than the automotive halo effect, but a very similar phenomenon," he said.
Supplier recruitment boost
McArtor also said the plant's supply chain will most likely extend well into the Florida Panhandle and as far north as Tennessee, while possibly attracting workers from as far away as Ohio.
"We want to qualify, train and contract with a broad supply chain," he said adding, "We want to increase our recruitment of suppliers across the United States, so we're looking...not just at existing suppliers but those who wish to qualify to be aerospace suppliers."
Specifically, automotive suppliers possess tremendous similarities to those in the aerospace sectors, and Alabama and the surrounding states already have a mature automotive supplier base, but McArtor said the certifications and rigorous documentation processes required to become aerospace suppliers might require additional assistance.
"We want to help suppliers understand what that (process) is and train them to do that," he said.
In addition, McArtor said he has already spoken with U.S. Congressman Jo Bonner about the possibility of hosting supplier conferences along the Gulf Coast, similar to events held in the company's existing U.S. strongholds of Ohio and Southern California.
"We've just made an investment in Ohio, and we want to do similar things as we learn what's available in Alabama because we build our products on our reputation for innovation. We've got to cultivate that," he said, indicating research and development opportunities exist for the region's colleges and universities.
Of course, that investment begins with making the right hires, and Airbus raised the buzz level to near-deafening levels Thursday by posting the first advertisement for a position - a human resources director - with the Mobile plant.
Get your resumes ready
Meanwhile, McArtor said executives have narrowed their candidates for a program manager to five or six from an initial pool of about 40 whom they will interview between now and Christmas, including a trip to the Airbus facility in Hamburg, Germany.
With that announcement made shortly after the first of the year, McArtor said the company will then quickly settle on an architect and engineer, and then in short succession groundbreaking is tentatively slated for April, with construction contracts to be awarded in early summer and visible progress apparent by late summer.
Assembly of the A320 aircraft family is planned to start in 2015, with first deliveries from the Mobile facility expected by 2016. Airbus anticipates the facility will produce between 40 and 50 aircraft per year by 2018.
In addition to the 1,000 direct jobs the final assembly line is expected to create, McArtor estimated as many as 3,600 jobs could be created during the construction phase and the aerospace multiplier indicates several thousand more indirect jobs will materialize.
In turn, he stressed the importance of the training partnership Airbus has established with Alabama Industrial Development Training - several representatives of which were in Hamburg a few weeks ago - to create a tailored curriculum to be taught in a training facility "dedicated to us, but not exclusive to us."
"This is our home," he said. "We want to be sure we allow for growth, so we've got to look at what could be 10 years, 20 years, 30 years down the road."