In November 2011, Siemens celebrated the official grand opening of its $135 million gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, N.C. The 450,000-square-foot plant adds the third leg to Siemens' Charlotte Energy Hub, which encompasses 1 million square feet of manufacturing capacity to produce generators, steam turbines and gas turbines.
Growing Siemens' presence in the U.S. energy market was an important consideration in the Charlotte expansion, explains Brian Maragno, director of operations, gas turbines, for the Charlotte facility. According to an estimate by Intek Inc. for the U.S. Energy Information Agency, 750 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas resources exist in the United States. That will help drive steady growth in the demand for gas turbines, which will account for 40% of U.S. generation by 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Only 13 months passed from the groundbreaking ceremony to shipping of the first products, Maragno notes. He says the expanded facility brings engineering and manufacturing together for three product categories, optimizing the synergies among them. And it offers customers, many of whom utilize all three lines, a convenient single site to visit.
While Siemens and Charlotte officials celebrated the new facility, there was bitter reaction last July in Hamilton, Ontario, where gas turbines had previously been built at a 100-year-old facility employing 550 workers.
"The provincial government has failed to ensure that its resources were fully used to maintain these important manufacturing jobs for this large group of workers, their families and the community of Hamilton," says Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers. "It's another example of the government's failure to act to protect jobs in the manufacturing sector."
Perhaps more than anything, the move of gas turbine production from Hamilton to Charlotte demonstrates the dynamic nature of manufacturing, where a host of factors are at play in decisions by companies to build, relocate or close facilities in order to meet the needs of global markets and shifting market conditions.
That dynamism is evident in the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on plant openings and closings. In 2010, according to Dan Meckstroth, chief economist for the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, 37,000 plants opened in the United States and 44,000 plants closed. Those figures represent 12% and 14%, respectively, of all U.S. manufacturing facilities.