A little more than eight months into one of the area’s biggest and most ambitious economic development projects, Ed Walker is pleased with the progress he’s seeing.
“We’re right on track with what we intended to bring to this site,” Walker, CEO of defense contractor W International, said of his company’s $35 million investment at the Charleston International Manufacturing Center in Goose Creek.
The site, located along the Cooper River, is expected to employ roughly 600 welders and fabricators in the next few years as the Defense Department awards contracts for construction of a next-generation Navy submarine and a new class of aircraft carriers.
Right now, W International employs about 50 welders for the handful of contracts it has already received and work the company is sending to Goose Creek from its Detroit-area headquarters. Plans call for hiring another dozen or so welders each month as the workload increases.
“We’re very comfortable with where we’re at in the procurement process, the number of employees we’re bringing on board and the volume of work,” Walker said.
Administrative offices have been renovated, new floors and lighting have been installed in the weld and paint shop building, and equipment is slowly starting to fill the space, with the bulk of W International’s metal fabrication tools and equipment scheduled to arrive through next year.
Some minor improvements have been made to the towering, 225-foot-tall cube-shaped building that’s the centerpiece of the W International site. That’s where Walker plans to build the large aircraft carrier parts, and a full renovation will take place once that work arrives.
It’s been easier than he expected to find a skilled workforce in a Charleston region where big manufacturers like Volvo, Boeing and Mercedes-Benz Vans are competing for some of the same talent.
“We’ve had hundreds of resumes — a lot more demand than we anticipated,” Walker said of the welding jobs that offer pay from the high teens to upper 20s, depending on experience. He expects to find many future workers through training programs W International is sponsoring at area high schools.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a great pipeline of good people,” he said. “Everyone that’s come here is super skilled. Workforce has not been a challenge.”
The biggest challenge ahead could be finding enough work for those employees to do.
The defense work isn’t guaranteed — W International will have to bid for it against a number of competing subcontractors looking to get hired by the big contractors Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding.
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