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story.lead_photo.caption Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake and Gov. Asa Hutchinson announce the $50 million expansion project Wednesday at the state Capitol. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a defense contractor with a presence in Arkansas for 40 years, on Wednesday announced a $50 million expansion of its plant in East Camden, with plans to hire another 140 workers over the next three years.

The company now has about 800 employees. The average annual salary for the new workers will be $55,000, Eileen Drake, Aerojet's president and chief executive officer, said during a news conference at the state Capitol with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The 1,900-acre East Camden plant produces solid rocket motors for missiles used in the nation's tactical and strategic defense systems. Drake, a former seven-year U.S. Army pilot, said the East Camden plant will play a big role as the U.S. replaces its 46-year-old land-based Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile defense system.

The rocket motors produced at the Highland Industrial Park in East Camden "sometimes go right next door" to Lockheed Martin or Raytheon plants for further assembly, Drake said. While Aerojet Rocketdyne, known as GenCorp until 2015, also does business with private ventures in space exploration, all of its operations at East Camden involve national defense, Drake said.

Drake said the company has spent some $86 million with more than 250 Arkansas businesses over the years as part of its supply chain. "Our commitment to Arkansas is rock solid," said Drake, the company's top official since June 2015.

The Arkansas plant benefited from Aerojet Rocketdyne's recent closing of a plant in Sacramento, Calif.

The closing in Sacramento and move to Arkansas was just part of the company's continuous efforts "to have the right product at the right facilities ... for our customers," Drake said.

Based in El Segundo, Calif., the company also has major operations in Huntsville, Ala., and at the John C. Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Hutchinson met Aerojet Rocketdyne officials at the Paris Air Show in France, not long after taking office as governor in 2015.

"We've been meeting regularly ... and we've been able to capture these [expanded] operations," Hutchinson said, calling the East Camden plant "an incredible facility for jobs and opportunities and also great support of our defense industry."

Aerospace and defense manufacturers in Arkansas contribute about $2 billion a year to the state's economy, Hutchinson said.

Aerojet's last major announced expansion in Arkansas was in 2015, when the company invested $18 million in equipment and facilities and hired 85 new full-time employees.

The company received a variety of tax incentives, from state and from local government, for the expansion, including $1.3 million from the governor's quick-action closing fund. It also is eligible for performance-based rebates on state payroll and sales taxes.

The Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development is providing about $237,000 in incentives for employee recruitment, retention and training efforts. Calhoun County is providing an abatement of up to 65 percent in local property taxes.

Aerojet Rocketdyne also is noted in the state for its work with the Ouachita Electric Cooperative and Silicon Ranch Corp. in 2016 to build a $25 million solar farm to supply about a third of Aerojet's power demands. At the time, the 12-megawatt solar field was the state's largest.

A Section on 08/16/2018

Print Headline: Maker of rocket motors to spend $50M expanding plant in state

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