Work Under Way on New Caterpillar Facility in Athens

Tue July 10, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Mary Reed


Many dignitaries attended the groundbreaking on March 16, including  Caterpillar Vice President Mary Bell, (front row, fourth from the left), and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (front row, fifth from the left).
Many dignitaries attended the groundbreaking on March 16, including Caterpillar Vice President Mary Bell, (front row, fourth from the left), and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (front row, fifth from the left).

March 16, 2012, was a memorable day in the Peach State.

On that date, a ceremonial groundbreaking for Caterpillar’s state-of-the-art facility in Athens, Ga., was held at the intersection of State Route 316 and U.S. 78, only a month after the company announced plans to construct its new plant there.

Guests at the event included Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, Rep. Paul Brown, Gov. Nathan Deal, Vice President of Caterpillar’s Building Construction Products Division Mary Bell, Athens Mayor Nancy Denson and other dignitaries.

Situated east of Atlanta, the plant now under construction on a site straddling Clarke and Oconee counties will manufacture mini-hydraulic excavators and small track-type tractors. In addition to finished products, Caterpillar plans to export partially assembled mini-excavator units to Europe for final assembly, improving delivery times on that continent.

Caterpillar decided in late 2011 to move production of these models closer to their American and European base of customers using these lines of equipment. The new plant will take over production at present carried out at the company’s Sagami, Japan, facility, which will then concentrate on high-tech components for Caterpillar products.

About 40 percent of the equipment manufactured in the new plant will be exported, and the proximity of ports at Charleston and Savannah was a factor influencing Caterpillar’s decision to build the facility in the Peach State. In addition, the company is eligible for tax abatements and a $45 million project development grant.

Gray Construction, based in Lexington, Ky., is the design-build contractor for the $200 million, one million sq. ft. (92,903 sq m) plant. The company served in a similar capacity for Caterpillar’s 850,000 sq. ft. (7,896 sq m) axle manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem, N.C. Ranked third among the top green contractors in manufacturing, Gray has several large projects that are under way or recently completed. Mostly located across the south, they include eight projects for Volkswagen at the Chattanooga, Tenn., campus; a Siemens gas turbine plant in Charlotte, N.C.; a Whirlpool plant in Cleveland, Tenn.; and multiple projects for Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.

Gray Construction began work on March 12, 2012. Initial production at the facility is expected to begin in late 2013.

Except for a crawler crane and aerial lifts, all the equipment utilized on site is manufactured by Caterpillar. While only a partial listing, the extensive fleet that is or will be utilized for this project includes:

• 815F and 563C compactors

• D10N, D8R and D6R crawler tractors

• D9T, D8RXL and D6NLGP dozers

• 385CL, 365BL and 345CL excavators

• 963B, 930G and 938GII loaders

• 140H and 14M graders

• 621G and 631G scrapers

• 773E, 773F and 740 trucks

The D6RXL, D6NLGP and 14M models are fitted with GPS. A handful of mini-excavators, skid steers and all-terrain fork lifts also are working on site.

“The notable thing about the equipment is that these pieces are normally found at heavy civil projects like dams, landfills, highway work or mining operations,” said Jill Wilson, vice president of communications and marketing at Gray Construction.

“Plateau Excavation Inc., an earthwork company based in Austell, Ga., has the equipment with the real ’Wow-Factor,’ especially the 773F trucks. These are not typical pieces of equipment we would have at a job site as they are normally too large for practicality. However, the magnitude of this site is ideal for these pieces of equipment,” she noted, adding “These ridged frame trucks receive the axles made at the Caterpillar axle manufacturing plant located in Winston-Salem, N.C., a facility recently completed by Gray Construction.”

The massive project sets a number of challenges.

“We are working on a 127- acre site on a very fast schedule. At the peak of the job, we will easily have 400 to 500 construction workers on site,” Wilson explained. This project involves a very large storm drainage package of up to 72 percent reinforced concrete pipe and building number two has overhead cranes in every bay. By the end of the project we will have moved in the neighborhood of 800,000 cubic yards of dirt. However, while it is still very early in the project, everything is going very well.

“We have accelerated our already aggressive earthwork schedule by three weeks,” Wilson continued. “That’s gaining a week a month. The first month was erosion-control work required prior to starting heavy earthwork. Ninety-eight percent of the work will be completed in an eight-month span,” she added.

The facility is expected to employ 1,400 workers when fully operational. In the longer view, it is estimated that almost 3,000 additional jobs will be created as suppliers of raw material and other necessary goods and services move into the area to support the plant. Once up and running, the Caterpillar facility will be the largest private employer in Oconee County, and it is expected the full economic impact on the region will ultimately be as much as $2.4 billion a year.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Gov. Deal, who expressed appreciation for Caterpillar’s investment in the state at the groundbreaking ceremony, has already declared his hope of persuading Caterpillar to move its corporate headquarters from Peoria, Ill., to Georgia.