LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) -- Texas-based Bell Helicopter says it is building a helicopter assembly plant in Lafayette to assemble the company's new line of SLS — Short Light Single — helicopters.
The project, announced Tuesday by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Bell Helicopter CEO John Garrison, will bring the first modern-era aircraft assembly facility to Lafayette Regional Airport.
Bell Helicopter will lease space for its operation in a new $26.3 million, 82,300-square-foot hangar facility at the airport that's being funded by the state but owned by Lafayette Regional Airport. The facility will be built on a 14.5-acre site that's located next to U.S. Highway 90.
The Times-Picayune reports construction will begin in the first half of 2014.
The project is expected to create 115 new jobs with average annual salaries of more than $55,000 plus benefits, and invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling.
Bell Helicopter will produce the five-seat, single-engine turbine helicopter, a contemporary version of the JetRanger, an aircraft built by the company more than 50 years ago.
The helicopter manufacturer began talks with key Louisiana officials about the potential assembly facility in July. To secure the project, the state offered an incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4 million for lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, as well as money to reimburse relocation expenses, the company said. Louisiana will also offer the use of the state's workforce development program.
"Bell Helicopter ranks among the most well-known aerospace companies, and we are proud that Louisiana's world-class workforce, outstanding business climate and incomparable infrastructure combined to attract this exciting project to our state," Jindal said.
He said the announcement signaled that "Louisiana is ready to further expand its presence and leadership in the aerospace industry, creating quality career opportunities for our people for generations to come."
The company will start hiring employees for the new location by 2015, and assembly operations will begin by 2016 following any necessary certification of the facility and the aircraft.
"As the first complete aircraft assembly plant in Louisiana, this project is significant not only for our city but the whole Acadiana area and our entire state," Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said. "This is an opportunity for an entire industry to take note of what is going on in our state."
Bell Helicopter is known widely for manufacturing a wide range of civil and military helicopters, and civil and military tilt rotor craft. The SLS will support a wide variety of operations, targeting customer segments including law enforcement, civilian flight training, utility and other applications.