When Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace announced a $ 300 million expansion plan in 2006, it was clear that the company had not only survived the economic havoc that Sept. 11, 2001, wreaked on the luxury business jet market, it had come back even stronger.
By mid-2007, it also was clear that the expansion - representing nearly a million square feet in manufacturing, sales and service facilities and about 1,100 new jobs - was itself expanding as demand for the company´s business jets continued to soar.
Gulfstream Senior Vice President and general counsel Ira Berman, offering an update on the expansion at the Savannah Economic Development Authority´s annual luncheon last May, offered the first indication.
"We now expect the total investment and job creation to be far in excess of what was originally promised," he said.
The first project in the ambitious seven-year plan, the Gulfstream Sales and Design Center, opened in June. The 17,500-square-foot facility is designed to provide a comfortable, one-stop-shopping environment for Gulfstream customers during the sales, purchase and design stages of their new airplane.
"Everyone who touches the sales process is housed here, so it helps the client with everything from initial due diligence to the really fun part - picking out carpet, upholstery and other interior designs," said Bill Shira, vice president of marketing and sales support.
"It´s meant to be respectful of our clients´ time and designed to help them through all the steps that go into deciding if the time is right to move up to a Gulfstream and, if so, which model best suits their needs."
By the time the second major project came online less than three months later, Berman´s words had proven prophetic - Gulfstream´s projected $ 300 million investment has grown.
The first phase of the company´s state-of-the-art Savannah Service Center opened in August in the southwest quadrant of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport property, providing much-needed room to handle the growing fleet of Gulfstream business jets currently in service.
The initial phase features a 136,200-square-foot hangar capable of accommodating up to 18 large-cabin aircraft, plus repair shops, a fuel farm, an engine run-up area and a cafeteria.
When the second phase is finished in 2009, it will more than double aircraft hangar space, making it the largest purpose-built business jet aircraft maintenance facility of its kind, said Mark Burns, Gulfstream´s vice president of customer support.
The next project, a new, 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on the company´s main campus, is on schedule to open in April.
That can´t happen a minute too soon.
"Demand is currently far outstripping our production capabilities," said Nicholas Chabraja, chairman and CEO of General Dynamics, Gulfstream´s parent company.
So much so that a customer placing an order for a new G550 two months ago can expect delivery in the second or third quarter of 2011, Chabraja told analysts in an October conference call.
"They´re working about as rapidly and as hard as they can, given their productivity constraints," said aerospace analyst Paul Nisbet, president of JSA Research Inc., a Rhode Island-based firm specializing in independent aerospace equity research.
"They certainly have a full order book."
At the end of the third quarter, net sales for the year stood at $ 3.6 billion, up 17 percent over the first three quarters of 2006, while operating earnings came in at 8 million, nearly 26 percent better than the previous year.
In May, Gulfstream also announced plans for a Research and Development Center II at Crossroads Business Park. RDC II will nearly double the capacity of RDC I, which opened last year and now stands at capacity, housing some 700 engineers.
Savannah-based Gulfstream Aerospace continues to grow, posting $ 3.6 billion in sales in the first three quarters of 2007, opening a new sales and design center and a state-of-the-art service center, and announcing plans for a second R&D facility.
WHAT IT MEANS
Even with the first projects in its seven-year, $ 400 million expansion plan completed, Gulfstream still can´t keep up with demand for the manufacturer´s top-of-the-line luxury business jet, the G550.
A 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility scheduled to open in April should help ramp up production of its fleet of large-cabin planes, while Gulfstream continues its research into supersonic flight with the "Quiet Spike," a patented, telescoping sonic boom mitigation cone. The aircraft manufacturer partnered with NASA to test the project with F-15 jets, a venture Gulfstream Vice President Pres Henne called "remarkably successful." The next step, Henne said, will be to incorporate the Quiet Spike into a low-boom configuration aircraft. Gulfstream´s platform is expected to be a sleek, aerodynamic business jet specifically constructed to muffle supersonic noise over land