Success in a rapidly changing tech marketplace requires a workforce that is not only skilled, but adaptive, resourceful and eager to take on new challenges. That’s just the type of workforce Michael Meguiar, GE Aviation plant manager, has found in Asheville.
“They’re highly skilled and very self-directed,” Meguiar says. “You give them the hardest, most challenging problem to solve, and they will find a way to solve it. It’s in the DNA of our workforce, and it’s in the DNA of this region.”
While GE has had a presence in Asheville for many years, in 2014 the company opened a $126 million facility to accommodate production of a revolutionary aircraft engine material known as Ceramic Matrix Composite (CMC). CMC materials can outperform advanced metallic alloys, make jet engines lighter and more fuel efficient, and cut emissions dramatically. The Asheville plant is the first high-volume production facility of CMC materials in the world. In 2018, the company announced plans to invest a further $105 million in its Asheville operations, adding 131 new positions that pay 30% above the Buncombe County average wage and will increase the total workforce to 425.
Locating the new plant in Asheville was a great choice according to Meguiar. In addition to a skilled, savvy and passionate workforce, GE found state, county and city governments eager to promote investment and growth in Advanced Manufacturing; educational institutions that support tech workers with programs at the high school and community college levels; a location central to its assembly plant in Durham, N.C., and its headquarters in Cincinnati; a collegial business community; and the beauty of the Western North Carolina mountains.
“We have over 90 sites in our GE Aviation Supply Chain. Asheville is one of the most desirable locations in our business, and it has a lot to do with the region, the amenities that the local community offers, the beauty of the mountains, and proximity to other larger cities. With all the attributes that Asheville provides, we have had great success attracting talent. We use the community as a selling point for our business.”
The Asheville business community is tight-knit and supportive, Meguiar says. “They are all about, ‘How can I grow the local economy and better the working environment for manufacturing and technology across the board?’ The uniqueness of Asheville is that it has a small-town feel with progressive big-city approach.”
For its part, GE participates in a vast network of community activities and fund-raisers, including the United Way, Mana Food Bank, Relay for Life and March of Dimes. The company runs an apprenticeship program with local high schools, where it trains and ultimately hires their next generation of technicians.
Asheville’s gorgeous geography and outdoor recreation opportunities are a huge plus for employees, Meguiar says. Hiking is big, both for recreation and team-building, as is mountain biking. The plant sponsors events such as a fishing tournament every year, golf outings and other community engagement activities. A young professionals group gets together regularly for activities such as hiking or exploring their local region.
“When we have visitors,” Meguiar adds, “it’s a great opportunity to show off the restaurants, breweries and all the eclectic things Asheville has to offer. I have lived in the four corners of the United States working for GE, and Asheville is just a special place.”