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Gov. John Bel Edwards and Andreas Löwenstein, Kopter Chief Executive Officer perform the ribbon cutting at the welcoming ceremony Saturday, March 9, 2019 at the former Bell Helicopter facility at Lafayette Regional Airport for the announcement of opening of the Kopter Production and Product Support Center which will deliver SH09 models throughout the Western Hemisphere using parts representing at least 50 percent of the aircraft's value from U.S. suppliers.

State and local officials along with local business leaders officially welcomed Swiss helicopter maker Kopter on Saturday to its new North American home in Lafayette, saying it will spur economic activity well beyond the city’s borders.

“Lafayette is helicopter country,” Andreas Löwenstein, CEO of Kopter Group AG, said in discussing the company’s choice of Lafayette over 38 other U.S. cities as the site for its production and product support center.

Kopter, he said, intends to “conquer the market here in the United States from right here in Lafayette.”

Löwenstein said Kopter considered a number of factors in making the decision to locate in Lafayette, including an available facility, proximity to potential clients, the $120 million new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport and the city’s fiber optic network.

“You have a lot of qualified people here and are close to the big operators, but it’s also a very welcoming area for companies like us," Löwenstein said. “We feel really at home.”

Another major draw that allowed Lafayette to beat out other cities was having both the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and South Louisiana Community College to help provide talent and educate the next generation of talent for Kopter to hire.

“Our program produces aircraft maintenance technicians, so when the company starts operating, they’re going to need those people, and we’re already trying to expand our program to increase more aircraft technicians so they can be hired here,” said Joel Matte, lead aircraft maintenance instructor at SLCC.

Kopter plans to employ about 120 people at the facility with an average salary of about $55,000 a year plus benefits. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will also result in another 157 new indirect jobs.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Kopter Group is an innovator in the aircraft industry and that locating in Lafayette will spur economic activity beyond just Lafayette and the Acadiana region.

“We’re excited about what this means for Lafayette and Louisiana,” Edwards said. “Having a diverse economy is important for the future so that our young people know there’s a job for them."

The 84,700-square-foot facility that will house Kopter is located along Evangeline Thruway and had previously been leased by Lafayette Regional Airport to Bell Helicopter.

There, Kopter will produce its new SH09 helicopters that will be sold in North America and some Latin American markets. The company plans to make a $4.2 million capital investment in new equipment and building additions at the Lafayette site.

Kopter plans to open its doors in 2021 and hire on the full 120 people by 2025.

The company plans to sell the SH09 helicopter primarily in the private sector but hopes to eventually expand into military production contracts, Löwenstein said.

Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux said the company’s decision to locate in the city “speaks incredibly highly of our workforce and our university and the fiber optic network that we have. It just proves that Lafayette can compete with a lot of these major American cities for global companies.”

Executives and Edwards had previously announced Kopter’s selection of Louisiana for its North American production location on Tuesday in Atlanta at the 2019 HAI Heli-Expo.

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Business Reporter