Martinsburg to get second airplane plant

October 16, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Another Asian industry was welcomed to the Eastern Panhandle Wednesday with the announcement that TLM Aerospace Inc. will invest up to $30 million in a plant that could employ 400 or more people over the next five years building single-engine airplanes.

TLM is a subsidiary of Tong Lung Metal, a Taiwanese manufacturer of door hardware and locksets making its first foray into the general aviation aircraft business.

The company was welcomed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Gov. Cecil Underwood at a ceremony at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.


When it begins construction of the 50,000-square-foot plant next year, TLM will become the second Taiwanese-backed aircraft builder at the John D. Rockefeller IV Science and Technology Center at the airport. Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corp. is finishing up construction of its 87,000-square-foot plant to build the SJ30-2 business jet.

TLM spent two years negotiating with American General Aviation to acquire rights to build the four-passenger AA1 and AA5 series airplanes, according to Rockefeller's office.

"They have committed to an initial $15 million investment that will create up to 200 jobs within the first two years," Rockefeller told the assembly of more than 100 at the Aero-Smith Inc. hangar at the airport. He said the company plans to invest another $15 million within five years to create up to 300 more jobs.

Rockefeller said the company had been negotiating with another state for two years, but West Virginia was able to land the project after he met with TLM officials last month. The senator said he had been notified by Taiwan's Vice Minister of Economic Affairs, Dr. Yiin Chii-Ming, about TLM's interest in an American operation.

"The United States' general aviation market is growing at a very fast pace. We can make money here manufacturing and selling these airplanes," Tong Lung Metal Vice President Fang Din Fan said through a translator. He said the company plans to begin construction of the plant early next year and start producing airplanes by the end of 1998.

Initial production would be 100 planes a year, with production increasing up to 600 planes a year, according to Fan.

The event was the second announcement this week of a company moving to the Eastern Panhandle from the Far East. On Monday, Ten Inc., a Japanese manufacturer of electromagnetic absorbent tiles, inked an agreement to locate a $1.2 million plant in the Morgan County Industrial Park. That company plans to employ 26 people within three years.

Underwood said the company was presented with a package of incentives that included corporate tax breaks based on the number of jobs created, loan programs and job training programs. He said the same package is offered to any company looking to locate in West Virginia.

Rockefeller brought to the ceremony a contingent of about 30 Taiwanese business people for what he called "a two-day whirlwind tour of West Virginia." That group flew into the airport and was later heading to Morgantown.

He said the tour will bring Taiwanese and West Virginia businesses together for possible ventures in high technology, aerospace and health care research.

According to the senator, Sino Swearingen already being at the airport probably was an influence on TLM, "but I think West Virginia and its hard-working people was the main thing."

Sino Swearingen, meanwhile, is preparing to take possession of its plant on Nov. 1, according to David Bartles, the company's vice president for manufacturing. "We'll begin moving tools and equipment in about the second quarter of next year," the Hagerstown native said.

Chief Financial Officer David Lee told the Taiwanese delegation and other guests at a luncheon Wednesday that the company hopes to have "100 firm orders from nine distributors by the end of this year."

Director of Corporate Communications Mike Potts said production will begin by the middle of next year with the first of the six passenger jets being delivered by the end of 1999.

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