Engine company expands

Jim Trueblood, vice president of Cummins High Horsepower Engineering, announces the engine designer and manufacturer's plan to invest $24 million in its Leeds Avenue technical center in North Charleston, almost doubling the testing facility's capacity and resulting in at least 30 jobs.

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Engine giant Cummins is almost doubling the capacity of its design and testing center in North Charleston as part of a broader plan to more than double global revenue over the next four years, company officials announced Wednesday.

The expansion of Cummins Technical Center Charleston will increase the number of test cells at the Leeds Avenue facility to 18 from 10 by the middle of next year, resulting in a 23 percent increase of Cummins' worldwide testing capacity.

The $24 million investment over the next three years also will more than double the current workforce of 25.

"In addition to this financial investment, we're looking for talented individuals and plan to hire 30-plus people in the Charleston area immediately," said Jim Trueblood, vice president of Cummins High Horsepower Engineering.

"And that's just ... that's going to be a start," added David Michi, operations manager for the technical center. "We'll be a few more than that."

About a third of the first batch of hires will be engineers. The rest will be mechanical and electrical technicians. Trueblood said the next round of hiring probably wouldn't happen until 2013.

Cummins tests 5.9- to 60-liter engines fueled by diesel, natural gas and biofuels at the North Charleston test center. Planning for the expansion began about a year ago, and construction started around the end of July, officials.

Gary Johnson, director of laboratory operations at center, acknowledged the test-cell increase was on an "aggressive schedule." But so is Cummins' overall plan.

The company, which has 40,000 employees in 190 countries, brought in $13.2 billion in revenue in 2010. Trueblood said Wednesday the company aims to reach $30 billion in revenue by 2015, with growth driven largely by increased use of natural gas and growing markets in China, India and Brazil.

"We're growing everywhere," he said.

Expansion in North Charleston wasn't a certainty, though.

Michi said two other sites in southern Indiana, nearer to Cummins' global headquarters in Columbus, Ind., were also "heavily discussed." And just last year, Cummins Turbo Technologies consolidated employees from its Leeds Avenue location to what is now a 200,000 square foot plant on Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston.

Trueblood said Cummins picked the Leeds Avenue site in part because of the state's business climate. Cummins is scheduled to receive a financial incentives package in connection with the expansion..

The state has offered workforce training through ReadySC as well as job development tax credits, which are determined by the wages of the new hires.

Charleston County offered a fee-in-lieu-of-tax arrangement and a special source revenue tax credit, which returns 15 percent of the fee revenue up to $300,000 to Cummins, if the company invests the $24 million and hires 43 people. The county incentives were disclosed in August under the code name "Project Aether" and will be reviewed for final approval Dec. 6.

County Council Chairman Teddie E. Pryor Sr., who represents the district that houses the technical center, called the investment a "vote of confidence in our workforce" not just to "make things but … also design very complex things like Cummins engines."

Steve Dykes, director of economic development for the county, noted the expansion is just the latest in a series of announcements that promise employment to a state where more than one in 10 people is out of work.

"It's been a nice little roll for a recession," Dykes said.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him at twitter.com/kearney_brendan.