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story.lead_photo.caption Paul Rivera, operations manager at Caterpillar North Little Rock, said Thursday that over the next six to 12 months the plant would begin hiring welders, mechanics, fork-truck drivers and other workers. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Caterpillar Inc. said Thursday that it will expand its North Little Rock operations with the hiring of another 250 workers and an investment of another $40 million by 2020.

Based in Illinois, the worldwide manufacturer of heavy equipment opened its North Little Rock assembly plant in 2010 to produce motor graders. Ahead of the gradual closing this year of a plant in Aurora, Ill., Caterpillar last year began constructing medium-wheel front loaders in North Little Rock.

Starting next year, the company also will be using the North Little Rock facility for producing cold planers and rotary mixers, which are used in paving projects.

The North Little Rock facility had 522 employees, including contract workers, as of Thursday, a company spokesman said.

About 200 employees, wearing company dress of tan pants and black shirts, joined Paul Rivera, the plant's operations manager since 2011, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others for the announcement. To make room for the crowd, workers cleared an area of about 20 feet by 100 feet of assembly-line machinery used to produce medium-wheel loaders that weigh from 21 tons to 39 tons and handle payloads of up to 12 tons.

"You made this happen," Hutchinson told the crowd of workers.

He said Arkansas is sixth in the nation in the percentage of its workforce engaged in manufacturing, with the creation of more than 5,000 manufacturing jobs since he took office in 2015. "Caterpillar's expansion today illustrates what we're good at, how we want to grow and build our state in this arena," he said. "Manufacturing is coming back to the United States of America."

Rivera said the company needs welders, mechanics, fork-truck drivers and others for three shifts, with hiring being done over the next six to 12 months.

"Companies have a choice in where they invest, where they build product and where those manufacturing facilities are," Rivera said. "That significant investment just shows how confident they are in the folks who work here."

Caterpillar opened the $140 million plant in 2010 on Faulkner Lake Road with about 600 employees, averaging $44,000 in pay a year, the company said at the time.

In 2009, in announcing its plans for the North Little Rock plant, Caterpillar qualified for a rebate on payroll taxes and for credits on sales and use taxes. It also received $3 million from the governor's quick-action closing fund and $325,000 for training.

"The original [$3 million] agreement required Caterpillar to create and maintain 500 positions," the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said Thursday. "They did not meet the employment requirements for 2012, 2013 and 2014, and therefore had to pay back $172,200 to AEDC."

With 410 full-time employees at the end of last year, Caterpillar also didn't meet the employment threshold for 2017 and has since paid the state $54,000, the commission said.

Full-time employment thresholds also weren't met in 2015 and 2016, the commission said.

An amendment to the state's deal with Caterpillar voids returning any money to the state for "underperformance for 2015 and 2016 and in exchange they agreed to extend the job monitoring period from 2018 to 2020," the commission said.

Caterpillar will sponsor a job fair at the North Little Rock plant from 8 a.m. to noon July 21. Online applications also are being accepted, and some workers could get jobs the day they're interviewed, according to a Caterpillar news release.

The company also is working with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to have "information sessions" for prospective employees from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Benton School District's professional development center; from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 13 at the university center of Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville; and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. July 14 at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College's business center on East Roosevelt Road in Little Rock.

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
Caterpillar employees work Thursday on the assembly line at the heavy equipment maker’s North Little Rock facility. On Thursday, Caterpillar announced a $40 million expansion for the plant that will add 250 workers by 2020.

A Section on 07/06/2018

Print Headline: Caterpillar to add 250 NLR workers; Investment of another $40M in plant by 2020 in equipment-maker’s plans

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