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Bell Helicopter plans headquarters expansion

Nov. 9, 2011, Fort Worth, Tx. - Bell Helicopter plans to build a new office building and training academy at its east Fort Worth headquarters complex and relocate hundreds of employees who now work at Alliance Airport and other area locations.


November 9, 2011
By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Topics

Bell officials say they will spend around $240 million to build the facilities and relocate workers, part of a larger $1 billion, four-year plan to improve the company's public face, strengthen its product lineup and install modern machines and technologies for the future.

"We're rebuilding Bell," said Robert Hastings, Bell's senior vice president of communications and government affairs.

The goal of the project is to centralize Bell's facilities, make them more attractive to customers and employees alike and improve efficiencies to keep costs down.

"We have to remain competitive," Hastings said. "We are in a brutally competitive environment."

Bell officials presented their plans to the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday as they seek approval of a 20-year, 80 percent property tax abatement on the value of the new facilities and improvements.

They will also seek abatements from Tarrant County, but not from local school districts. The company's east Fort Worth plant is in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district.

"Education is challenging enough, given the existing budgets," Hastings said. "We made a decision early on not to approach the school districts."

The company isn't promising to create any jobs to gain the tax breaks, but Hastings said moving employees to the Fort Worth complex should generate more economic activity in the area.

The key pieces in Bell's expansion at its longtime home on Texas 10 are a four-story building, expected to be 200,000 square feet in size, and a 50,000-square-foot building to house the Bell Helicopter Training Academy now based at Alliance. It will remodel and upgrade other buildings and add a flight center for training on the south side of the property along Trinity Boulevard.

Overall the company expects to relocate about 700 workers from Alliance, a warehouse complex in Roanoke and other leased office space by 2015.

Hastings said there "are no planned job reductions in the consolidation planning, but we realize that once we begin combining operations there may be some redundancies that we'll need to look at." The new facilities will also include ample room for future job growth if business conditions warrant adding positions.

In addition to the new buildings, Bell is spending about $250 million more on other upgrades, new manufacturing equipment and a heavy investment in information technology.

The company expects to spend $500 million on research and development by 2015. Bell has launched development of a new commercial helicopter — the closely guarded Project Magellan — that will consume a big portion of the R&D budget. It is also working on technology and designs for future military aircraft.

The board of directors of Textron, Bell's parent company, approved the plans last week contingent upon the company obtaining tax breaks from local governments.

Textron, under the direction of Chief Executive Scott Donnelly, has given a high priority to making new investments in Bell. The company was often forced to operate on thin capital expenditure and R&D budgets during the tenure of Textron's former longtime CEO Lewis Campbell.

Hastings said Bell expects to generate plenty of cash from profits on its military and commercial aircraft programs to pay for the capital investment program.

Largely due to production and sales of the V-22 Osprey and military helicopters, Bell's revenues and operating profits have been strong. Revenues and profits both increased 40 percent in 2010, and are on pace to grow sharply again through the first three quarters of 2011.

Some changes are already under way. In recent months, the former employee cafeteria was demolished and construction began on a new 29,000-square-foot employee center that will include cafeteria facilities, a company store and employee meeting areas with wireless Internet access. That building is expected to open in January.

"Employees will be able to go over there and work on projects together," Hastings said.

Bell will still operate its gear box and power train manufacturing plant off Texas 360 in Grand Prairie and its Xworx research and development and prototyping facility at Arlington Municipal Airport. The company's military aircraft assembly operations will remain in Amarillo and commercial helicopter assembly in Mirabel, Canada.

One goal of the Bell plan is bring all of its administrative, engineering and marketing staff into one central location, making it easier to collaborate and cut down on commuting time on the highways leading to Alliance.

All of the company's existing office and work spaces will be upgraded with new equipment and technology, Hastings said, with the goal of creating a more inviting work environment.

Last year, Bell invited Texas A&M MBA students to review its facilities, and they gave a resounding thumbs-down to the company as a place that would be attractive for young people to work. "We have to draw talent here," Hastings said. "We need to attract bright, young people in order to remain competitive."

Over the last decade, Bell moved a number of programs and offices off site, primarily to Alliance. The commercial helicopter Customer Service Center, which includes showroom, offices and the training academy, were moved to the old 161,000-square-foot Galaxy Aerospace office-hangar complex at Alliance in 2004.

All of the capabilities Bell now has at the commercial aircraft facility will be replicated as part of the Fort Worth complex additions.

A separate 204,000-square-foot building at Alliance, owned by Bell, houses its military programs staff and the company has some leased office space that was used by the now defunct Bell-Augusta Aerospace Co.

The company also operates a combined repair and overhaul and parts distribution center out of a warehouse complex in Roanoke.


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