LITTLE ROCK — Dassault Falcon Jet announced Wednesday it will spend $60 million over three years to expand its Little Rock completion facility, four years after laying off more than 200 workers because of declining sales and production.
The expansion project, which is scheduled to begin next year and be completed in early 2016, will enlarge the facility from 1 million to 1.25 million square feet and include upgrades to existing shops and hangars. It is intended to increase production capability for Dassault, which is preparing to introduce a new jet.
"Our next step in the Falcon family is an airplane — the code name is SMS — and that’s really why we needed to expand out presence here," Dassault Falcon Jet President and CEO John Rosanvallon said in a news conference at the company’s facility at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. "This brand new Falcon will be introduced at the next LBA (Light Business Aircraft) convention in Las Vegas in October, and we believe that it will be the best Falcon yet."
Gov. Mike Beebe said Arkansas competed for the project.
"We were in a battle for this expansion that could have resulted in it going somewhere else in this country — I’m not going to name the place — and could have had an impact on future growth and development of this wonderful facility," he said. "So not only is this an expansion with all the attendant things that go along with an expansion, it’s a re-commitment to the presence of Dassault for all time going forward in Little Rock, Arkansas, and that in and of itself is worth the celebration."
Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said after the news conference that the expansion is expected to pave the way for as many as 300 new jobs at the facility, where the company adds cabinets, upholstery and other parts to planes built in France. The facility currently employs 1,700 people.
"We were told that if that facility went somewhere else, that the close-to-immediate impact would be 400 jobs leaving this facility," with more jobs being lost later, he said.
State incentives the company will receive for the project include $2 million from the governor’s Quick-Action Closing Fund; a cash rebate equal to 3.9 percent of new payroll for 10 years; a sales tax refund on building materials and taxable machinery and equipment associated with the project; and reimbursement for training expenses.
Also, the city of Little Rock agreed to waive future rent payments, amounting to a about a $43 million savings for the company over the next 40 years, and provide $1.3 million in cash incentives.
Other speakers at the news conference included Francois Delattre, France’s ambassador to the U.S.; Jesse Mason, vice chairman of the Little Rock Airport Commission; Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola; U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock.
Delattre said, "This expansion, and the fact that this facility is Dassault’s largest worldwide say a lot about Arkansas and Little Rock’s attractiveness and many competitive assets."
Dassault Falcon Jet is part of Dassault Aviation, which has a presence in more than 70 countries across five continents with a total work force of more than 12,000 people.