BOGART, Ga. (AP) -- Caterpillar Inc. has officially opened a manufacturing plant near Athens, and executives promise a bright future despite disappointing company earnings recently.
CEO Douglas Oberhelman and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal led the pomp Thursday, and The Athens-Banner Herald reports (http://bit.ly/HuXiho ) that the $200 million plant will complete its first mini hydraulic excavator Friday.
So far, about 300 out of a promised 1,400 workers have been hired at the plant, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution (http://bit.ly/1gfeQMQ ). But Oberhelman told the Atlanta newspaper Thursday that he expects the facility to be fully staffed by 2015. He projected about 2,800 additional jobs from nearby suppliers, and he emphasized the residual effect of the plant on the local real estate and retail markets.
The million-square-foot plant straddles the line that separates Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County. At full pace, executives say the plant will produce about 60 excavators per day. The plan calls for eventual production of small track-type tractors, according to the Banner-Herald.
Caterpillar received a package of state and local incentives worth about $75 million for the plant. That figure includes tax breaks, infrastructure improvements and property.
Deal justified the incentives package as a "small price to pay" for a major manufacturing outpost, particularly with Georgia's unemployment rate still lagging behind the national average.
Based in Illinois, Caterpillar already has facilities in Griffin, LaGrange and Thomasville.
"Georgia is very important to us in the scheme of our global footprint around the world," Oberhelman said, adding that it will be one of the firm's largest single facilities.
Caterpillar posted disappointing earnings for the third quarter of 2013, as revenues slipped 18.4 percent compared to the previous year. Analysts attribute the decline to lower demand from the mining sector.
The firm has lowered is sales and profits forecast for 2013, temporarily idled some plants and cut several thousand jobs.
Caterpillar shares, which are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, fell 13 cents Thursday to close at $83.36 per share. That's down 16 percent from its highest point in the last year and about 5 percent higher than its low in the same period.