ATLANTA (AP) — Caterpillar said Friday that it plans to build a new manufacturing facility in Georgia, a project company officials say will create more than 4,200 U.S. jobs.
The 1-million-square-foot facility near Athens is expected to directly employ 1,400 workers once it's fully operational, the company said in a statement.
Company officials said they estimate the project will create another 2,800 full-time jobs in the U.S. among suppliers and at other companies.
At a Friday morning news conference at the Capitol, Deal described the project as the largest growth of new jobs in Georgia since a sprawling Kia Motors manufacturing facility was built.
"Georgia is proud to have built a business climate that provides the logistics, workforce, speed and efficiency that global industry leaders like Caterpillar are looking for," Deal said.
Caterpillar already employs 3,000 people in Georgia, with facilities in Toccoa, Pendergrass, LaGrange, Griffin, Barnesville, Atlanta, Patterson and Thomasville. More than 160 suppliers are also located in Georgia, and state officials are hoping to lure that business in the coming months.
Georgia's port on the Atlantic Ocean also factored into the decision, company officials said.
"The Athens site was selected from among dozens of locations considered due to its proximity to the major ports of Savannah and Charleston, a strong regional base of potential suppliers, a positive and pro-active business climate and a good pool of potential employees with manufacturing experience," said Mary Bell, vice president of Caterpillar's Building Construction Products division.
About 40 percent of the tractors and excavators built at the plant will be exported, primarily to South America and Western Europe, company officials said.
Georgia's overall approach to transportation and infrastructure was also attractive, Caterpillar executives said.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Doug Oberhelman cited the transportation tax referendum headed to voters this fall as a consideration.
"We need to be competitive, and this is critical to making Georgia competitive," Oberhelman said.
In November, Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar announced plans to shift production from Japan and open a new manufacturing facility in North America to produce small tractors and excavators. The company said its goal was to move production of the equipment closer to its customers in North America and Europe.
Georgia scrambled fast to land the deal. Talks began with the company in December. Chris Cummiskey, head of the state's economic development agency, said a combination of factors put Georgia ahead.
"They were looking at different states and we were in there," Cummiskey said. "They kept looking at Georgia ... they talked about workforce development a lot. That, and the fact we have a Japanese office and could work with their suppliers ... The financial incentives were probably similar to other states, but that was a huge difference."
North Carolina lawmakers say their state was also being considered for the new plant, and they had hoped Caterpillar would choose an industrial park near the Port of Wilmington.
Early Friday morning, shortly before the formal announcement, North Carolina state Rep. Dewey Hill said he was disappointed the plant was headed to Georgia. "We've lost plant after plant" to other states, he said.
"I can tell you we probably need to go back and take a look at our whole process in North Carolina," Hill said. "I think we need to take a look at our infrastructure and our tax system."
North Carolina officials naturally downplayed their disappointment as the state tries to shore up its economy. The unemployment rate was treading water for all of 2011 and ended the year just out of double-digit range at 9.9 percent in December.
"The company made a business decision based on its logistical needs," assistant state commerce secretary Tim Crowley said. "We aggressively worked in a bipartisan effort to put together a robust package to bring this project to North Carolina."
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue's office declined to comment.
In Georgia, work at the new plant will include major fabrications, paint and final assembly, the company has said.
Caterpillar said it plans to break ground on the new plant during the first quarter of 2012, with initial production expected to begin in late 2013. Officials say they plan to ramp up to full production over a five-year period.