The opening of Boeing’s U.S. Army helicopter modification center at Millville Airport will lead to the creation of up to 100 jobs and could lure other businesses to locate there as well, Boeing and government officials said Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Boeing and government officials celebrated the opening of the facility at an invitation-only, ribbon-cutting event in one of Boeing’s hangars, during which the Chinook CH-47 helicopters being modified were on display.

Government leaders said the opening of the Boeing facility could help draw other businesses to southern New Jersey and transform an image that the state is unfriendly to business.

“We can win by showing businesses around the country that New Jersey has a a great work force, that New Jersey has a great location,” Gov. Chris Christie said.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said a major factor is Boeing’s worldwide recognition.

“It sends a message to the world that if a major international corporation like Boeing can select Millville, this is a place worth paying attention to,” LoBiondo said.

Boeing signed a four-year lease with two, two-year options for about 80,000 square feet of space at the airport, in which technicians will add 10 upgrades to the helicopters produced in Pennsylvania. Those upgrades include communications and navigation equipment, as well as a defensive system that hides the helicopters’ infrared signature so they can better evade anti-aircraft weapons that use infrared targeting systems.

So far, Boeing has between 20 and 25 employees working on site. Company officials said they plan to add 45 manufacturing jobs this year and eventually have as many as 100 people working on site.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brad Killen said Millville’s proximity to Boeing’s manufacturing plant in Ridley Park, Pa., was a key factor in its selection. Prior to establishing the Millville site in mid-February, upgrades were handled at several different sites around the country.

“Having a centralized site here reduces logistics, as opposed to going to Fort Bragg, Fort Hood, Fort Campbell,” said Killen, the Army’s project manager for Chinook upgrades.

Boeing and the U.S. Army settled on Millville after a 90-day negotiations period with the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which runs the airport. The airport has struggled in recent years, with the closing of Dallas Airmotive’s facility being the most recent setback.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, whose 3rd District includes western Cumberland County, said he told DRBA Chairman Jim Hogan when Hogan became the agency’s head that “Millville’s becoming a problem. It’s having too many failures, not enough successes.”

Now, he said he sees the Boeing deal as tilting the pendulum back the other way on the airport, with hopes that a different approach from government will make New Jersey more business-friendly.

“New Jersey is not a bad place to do business,” said Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland. “It was a bad place. It’s going to get better. It’s going to continue to get better.”

Sweeney, LoBiondo and Millville Mayor Tim Shannon said Boeing’s presence has already led to discussions with other companies interested in locating at Millville Airport and the surrounding areas to support Boeing.

“The main players that I’ve heard of have been companies that service them with parts and pieces,” Shannon said.

Local leaders have stressed the effect the new facility will have on the local economy, including creating new jobs. Thus far, most of the employees have relocated from the Fort Campbell, Ky., area, where Boeing was previously doing Chinook upgrades. For example, aircraft technician Greg Crisp said he worked at that site and relocated to Millville from Knoxville, Tenn. Some local people have been hired recently, company officials said.

Initially, there were discussions about having a local career fair, but that hasn’t happened. Rather, company spokesman Scott Day said Boeing is relying largely on hiring through its Web site.

Contact Daniel Walsh:

856-649-2074

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