Defense contractor starts up

Published 10:06 pm Monday, May 3, 2010

Local, state and federal officials joined a major defense-industry manufacturer on Monday to celebrate a cooperative effort that they expect will result in a $9.2 million investment in Suffolk and at least 200 new jobs.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Cobham Defense Systems’ composite products high-volume production facility off of Harbour View Boulevard provided an opportunity for company officials to show off their new, 73,500-square-foot facility.

But the event also proved a chance for elected officials from the local, state and federal levels to congratulate one another on their ability to work together to entice a major new industrial player to the area.

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“This is great news for Suffolk, great news for Virginia and great news for the national security of our country,” Sen. Jim Webb said of the facility’s opening during his keynote address to the visiting dignitaries.

“It’s a great fit,” he added later. “Norfolk and Hampton Roads is the great Navy community on the East Coast. This is a good fit with the talent that is available here.”

Cobham’s facility in Suffolk is intended to complement one that it runs in San Diego, giving the company protection against shutdown in case of an earthquake or other catastrophe on the West Coast, according to Jeremy Wensinger, president of Cobham Defense Systems.

That capability was important to the 75-year-old company’s customers, which include the U.S. defense industry.

In Suffolk, the company will manufacture advanced aircraft engine components, aircraft and rotorcraft structural products, unmanned aerial vehicle components and missile and munitions products for the aerospace and defense industry.

Company officials explained one of the processes on Monday, showing visitors how 32-foot-long helicopter rotor blades would be brought into the facility, cleaned, weighed and minutely balanced before being sent on for installation onto CH-53K helicopters used by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The work is highly detailed and relies on technically advanced processes and equipment for which the Suffolk facility and its future employees had to be specially prepared, company officials said.

Because of the highly technical nature of the work, Cobham has chosen to move slowly toward the full complement of “at least” 200 employees that it promises to have in Suffolk by 2014, according to Wensinger. The company has 18 employees on site now and expects to add a few at a time as it gets new processes up and running.

But its commitment to Suffolk will not be shaken, he said.

After looking at 32 different locations around the nation, the team that had been charged with recommending a location for the new facility was unanimous in its choice of Suffolk, he added.

“You rarely see local, state and national (leaders) all come together” the way they did to bring Cobham to Suffolk, he said. “And your local government has done an outstanding job.”

“We’re talking now about 200 employees,” he told visitors. “But we’d love nothing more than to have significantly more than that, as we continue our commitment to this area.”