Wednesday, February 28, 2024

‘A big damn announcement’: GE Hitachi to expand staff by 500, add joint-venture fuel plant

Local officials and company executives moving some earth in a ceremonial groundbreaking at the GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy campus. (Carl Blankenship/PCD)

WILMINGTON — The Cape Fear’s long-standing nuclear sector is planning an expansion with the help of $1.5 million in public money.

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy gathered dignitaries, company officials and members of the media at its Wilmington headquarters Friday to unveil what was pseudonymously dubbed “Project Clear.” Both the county and city signed off on allocating money toward earlier this year.

READ MORE: Commissioners OK $1.9M in incentives for company expansions

This was the last and largest of a series of deals headed up by Wilmington Business Development to the tune of $1.9 million in incentives. The county forked over $1.25 million and the city contributed $250,000, to be paid over five years.

Though that total is small change compared to what the companies are investing at the campus.

There are two pieces to the project the incentive supports: hiring staff for the rollout of GE Hitachi’s latest small nuclear reactor and building a new facility to produce fuel for a different reactor.

For GE Hitachi proper, it announced they have already hired 250 for the roll out of the firm’s BWRX-300 reactors and the new fuel project. The small water boiling plants will produce 300 megawatt each, are designed to be efficient, and carbon-free.

GE Hitachi President and CEO Jay Wileman said the company expects to invest more than $85 million into growing its staff by a total of 500 over the next five years, each paying average earnings of $131,000. The workers will provide engineering and planning services, though there will be no reactor components built in Wilmington. Wileman said local production of the reactors could be an option in the future.

The firm already has major clients who want the reactors, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, Canadian firm SaskPower and companies throughout Europe. The firm expects to have reactors installed in the 2030s.

An existing secure manufacturing facility, tucked away in the back of the campus, is already producing nuclear fuel, but this new project will involve building a new $200 million facility to process a different type of uranium into fuel for nuclear firm TerraPower’s Natrium reactor. The project is being paid for by TerraPower and the United States Department of Energy. The project falls under the umbrella of Global Nuclear Fuel, a joint venture led by General Electric.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo summed it up:

“This is a big damn announcement, I mean a really big announcement for this community,” Saffo said. “I just want to say it’s always a great day in the City of Wilmington, but it’s an especially great day when you see an announcement like this.”

Also on hand wereU.S. Rep. David Rouzer (R-7), DOE Senior Advisor Mike Goff, New Hanover County Commissioner Bill Rivenbark and company executives fora ceremonial groundbreaking in a grassy part of the campus. The actual site is in the secure part of the campus.

“When I think of our regional economy, among the things that I am most grateful for are the global-industrial legends doing business right here,” Wilmington Business Development CEO Scott Satterfield said.

General Electric has a long history in Wilmington, first opening in the 1960s. The nuclear division moved its headquarters from San Jose to Wilmington in 2003.

The incentives offered by the county and city to scale the project are one of four deals approved earlier in the winter.

Announced in September, Live Oak Bank, a.k.a Project Buckeye, will invest $25 million to build a fourth building on its Tiburon Drive campus to accommodate at least 204 new jobs in the cloud-based banking industry. Locally, New Hanover County is chipping in $300,000 and the City of Wilmington approved $200,000 over five years.

Savannah, Georgia’s Port City Logistics — known as “Project Speed” — will invest $16 million to construct a high velocity transload facility in Wilmington. The county approved paying $67,500 over five years, with the city signing off on $45,000 over five years.

Freight brokerage firm MegaCorp Logistics (Project Transit) will increase its workforce by 300 jobs, projected to have an $18.9 million impact. The city approved paying $40,000 annually, while the county will dole out $60,000 a year over five years. 

All four projects are expected to bring 1,000 jobs total, $110 million in payroll and over $125 million in capital investments to the county. Funds are not paid upfront, but are received when the companies follow through with their commitment of job creation and prove to the state employment commission it has established the positions.

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