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Bell Helicopter to build assembly plant in Lafayette

Texas-based Bell Helicopter announced Tuesday after a highly competitive multi-state site selection process, the company is building a helicopter assembly plant in Lafayette to assemble the company's new line of SLS-or Short Light Single-helicopters.

The project will bring the first modern-era aircraft assembly facility to Louisiana's Lafayette Regional Airport.

Bell Helicopter will lease space for its SLS assembly operation in a new $26.3 million , 82,300-square-foot hangar facility at the airport that's being funded by the State of Louisiana, but owned by Lafayette Regional Airport. The facility will be built on a 14.5-acre site there that is located adjacent to U.S. Highway 90.

Officials say construction will begin in the first half of 2014.

Bell Helicopter will produce the five-seat, single-engine turbine helicopter, a contemporary version of the JetRanger, an aircraft built by the company more than 50 years ago.

The helicopter manufacturer began talks with key Louisiana officials about the potential assembly facility in July. To secure the project, the State of Louisiana offered an incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4.0 million for lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $0.2 million to reimburse relocation expenses, the company said. Louisiana will also offer the use of LED FastStart state workforce development program.

"Bell Helicopter ranks among the most well-known aerospace companies, and we are proud that Louisiana's world-class workforce, outstanding business climate and incomparable infrastructure combined to attract this exciting project to our state. Louisiana is a state with a long history in the aerospace industry," Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement Tuesday. "Today's announcement signals that Louisiana is ready to further expand its presence and leadership in the aerospace industry, creating quality career opportunities for our people for generations to come."

The project is expected to create 115 new direct jobs averaging more than $55,000 per year plus benefits, and invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling.

LED estimates that the new facility will bring another 136 new, permanent indirect jobs to the area, totaling more than 250 new jobs in the Acadiana area. Bell will maintain 63 existing jobs in the Lafayette area that are associated with two existing facilities involved with helicopter components and service operations.

The company will start hiring employees for the new location by 2015, and assembly operations will begin by 2016 following any necessary certification of the facility and the aircraft.

"As the first complete aircraft assembly plant in Louisiana, this project is significant not only for our city but the whole Acadiana area and our entire state," Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said. "This is an opportunity for an entire industry to take note of what is going on in our state."

Bell Helicopter is known widely for manufacturing a wide range of civil and military helicopters, and civil and military tiltrotor craft. The SLS will support a wide variety of operations, targeting customer segments including law enforcement, civilian flight training, utility and other applications.

Read the Times Picayune article here