Hawker Beechcraft Corp. marked the opening of a new, 180,000-square-foot plant in Chihuahua, Mexico, on Thursday, the second of three facilities to be open by the end of the year.
Dignitaries from Mexico's local, state and federal governments joined Hawker Beechcraft leaders and board members at a ceremony commemorating the opening.
Hawker Beechcraft is investing $20 million in the project.
Workers at the plant will perform sheet metal assembly for King Air turboprops and Hawker jets along with electrical assembly work.
"We have seen a high level of quality and craftsmanship coming out of the skilled work force in Chihuahua," Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said during a conference call Thursday.
The company also has "great support" from the state government in Mexico, a key factor in the company's decision to expand there, Boisture said.
He declined to give details on the incentives the company will receive.
Hawker Beechcraft currently employs about 400 people at the two sites in Mexico. Employment is expected to grow to about 1,000 by the end of the year, including workers at the third facility.
In all, the company will occupy about 500,000 square feet.
Last year, Hawker Beechcraft announced that it is closing Plants 1 and 2 in Wichita and moving the work from there, along with King Air-related back shop operations, to outside suppliers and to Mexico.
"This new facility will absorb some of the sheet metal fabrication work that's moving out of these other, older facilities," Boisture said.
The parts will be major assemblies for King Airs related primarily to the fuselage, he said.
The company is also transferring about $25 million of work to outside suppliers across Kansas, although the work won't be done in Wichita, Boisture said.
"We weren't trying to not do it in Wichita," he said. It just worked out that way.
Hawker Beechcraft opened its first facility in Chihuahua in 2007 to do manufacturing of light sheet metal assembly.
"With the opening of its second plant in the city, Hawker Beechcraft reaffirms its commitment to the state of Chihuahua," Cesar Horacio Duarte Jaquez, governor of the state of Chihuahua, said in a statement.
An important factor in choosing Chihuahua was the ability to train specialized operators for the aerospace industry through the High Technology Training Center CENALTEC Campus Chihuahua, the company said.
It's a training center for machining, sheet metal, painting and other techniques and processes that trains and certifies technicians.
Hawker Beechcraft is part of an aviation hub in Mexico, which includes Honeywell, Goodrich, Cessna and Gulfstream.
When asked whether he was concerned about the drug violence in Mexico, Boisture noted that Chihuahua is about 200 miles south of the border in the eastern part of Mexico.
"To date, we've seen no difficult situations there regarding security," Boisture said. "But we are vigilant about it, as is the government of the state of Chihuahua.
"We do take caution about how people arrive at the facility and who's admitted to the facility, which I would say perhaps is one level above what you would call normal industrial security."