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Caterpillar plant could boost local businesses
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Following Caterpillar's Friday announcement to build a new manufacturing facility near Athens and hire 1,400 workers, Newton County economic development officials are already working to reap some of the benefits.

The 1-million-square-foot facility near Athens is expected to directly employ 1,400 workers once it's fully operational, Caterpillar said in a statement, but company officials said they estimate the project will create another 2,800 full-time jobs in the U.S. among suppliers and at other companies.

"We immediately began networking Friday to position ourselves as a prime location for suppliers," said Roger Harrison, senior vice president of economic development for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

Harrison said Covington would be a fit for a metal fabrication supplier because the city has a history of hosting similar companies and has workers skilled in that field.

"This will be great for (our) region," Harrison said in a Saturday email. "It shows that we are a prime location for advanced manufacturing."

The Caterpillar facility will be approximately 35 miles from Covington.

"Although we are working to create local employment options, until those options arrive, this new Caterpillar facility will offer great employment opportunities for our residents. It is my understanding they are looking at an aggressive time frame to get up and running," Harrison said.

Caterpillar said it plans to break ground on the new plant during the first quarter of 2012, with initial production expected to begin in late 2013. Officials say they plan to ramp up to full production over a five-year period.
Work at the new plant will include major fabrications, paint and final assembly, the company has said.

At a Friday morning news conference at the Capitol, Gov. Nathan Deal described the project as the largest growth of new jobs in Georgia since a sprawling Kia Motors manufacturing facility was built.

"Georgia is proud to have built a business climate that provides the logistics, workforce, speed and efficiency that global industry leaders like Caterpillar are looking for," Deal said.

Caterpillar already employs 3,000 people in Georgia, with facilities in Toccoa, Pendergrass, LaGrange, Griffin, Barnesville, Atlanta, Patterson and Thomasville. More than 160 suppliers are also located in Georgia, and state officials are hoping to lure that business in the coming months.

Georgia's port on the Atlantic Ocean also factored into the decision, company officials said.

"The Athens site was selected from among dozens of locations considered due to its proximity to the major ports of Savannah and Charleston, a strong regional base of potential suppliers, a positive and pro-active business climate and a good pool of potential employees with manufacturing experience," said Mary Bell, vice president of Caterpillar's Building Construction Products division.

About 40 percent of the tractors and excavators built at the plant will be exported, primarily to South America and Western Europe, company officials said.

Information for this was obtained through the Associated Press.