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Bell Helicopter to build helicopters in Lafayette

Bell Helicopter said it will locate its planned SLS helicopter assembly plant in Lafayette, a project that by 2015 should create 115 permanent jobs at the plant's Lafayette Regional Airport site and result in tens of millions of dollars in investment.

The project, announced Tuesday, also should foster 136 indirect jobs and 61 jobs during construction, officials said.

"We considered several sites for this new facility, and Louisiana's proposal demonstrated the state's commitment to economic development," Bell Helicopter Chief Executive Officer John Garrison said in a news release announcing the company's plans.

Garrison also said the quality and dedication of employees at a Bell facility in Lafayette was a factor in choosing the city. He said the number of employees hired locally should be more than the conservative figure announced Tuesday when the assembly plant is fully operational.

"If we only hire 150 employees here I will be disappointed," he said.

Bell Helicopter, headquartered in Hurst, Texas, near Fort Worth, is owned by Textron.

The SLS aircraft Bell plans to build in Lafayette is a contemporary version of a five-seat, single-engine turbine helicopter the company designed and built 50 years ago in its JetRanger series.

Gov. Bobby Jindal said Bell plans to spend $11.4 million on equipment and tooling for the plant.

The governor said Louisiana has committed $4 million toward hangar lease support for Bell, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $205,000 for Bell employee relocation expenses.

He said Bell's new hires also will be included in Louisiana Economic Development's FastStart workforce development program.

In addition, Jindal said, Louisiana has anted up $26.3 million to build the hangar facility on 14.5 acres, which will be deeded over to the Lafayette Regional Airport and leased to Bell.

Plant construction is scheduled to begin in the first half of 2014. Bell will begin hiring the employees in 2015 and the plant will start manufacturing the aircraft by 2016, Jindal said.