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The General Electric manufacturing facility where Bob Harvey started working a half-century ago is hardly recognizable from the one that still runs today next to Bangor International Airport.
Its campuses have expanded. Its machines have evolved. The facility has mainly produced and repaired the components for GE’s steam and gas turbines, but it recently began making a small number of aircraft parts, too.
Before Harvey retired in 2002, one of his responsibilities was to walk around the factory and schedule when different parts would be used in the manufacturing process.
“That job doesn’t even exist now,” Harvey, who is 73, said Saturday as the facility celebrated its 50th anniversary with an open house attended by current staff, retirees and their families, as well as elected officials. “It’s all done by computer systems. It’s just amazing. The technology here is so much greater than it used to be.”
The GE plant on the western outskirts of Bangor has quietly remained a steady employer in the region, even as the country has lost millions of manufacturing jobs. The company has also continued to pay property taxes in a city where a large share of the jobs are created by hospitals and other nonprofit service providers that do not have to pay taxes.
Using stainless steel and other materials such as titanium that are shipped from around the world, its workers produce everything from small turbine blades that are smaller than smartphones to large rotors that require cranes to be moved around the factory.
The components are then sent to other GE factories or straight to the power generating customers that have ordered them.
GE has cut thousands of jobs at some of its other facilities that produce power turbine components in recent years, but the total staffing at its Bangor plant has hovered around 400 since the late 1980s, according to Eric Anderson, the site’s manager.
Anderson declined to say how the staffing of GE’s Bangor facility could change in the next decade, but he said advancements in its technology have allowed it to keep its employment stable even as the demand for power has dropped in recent years.
“We’re known for our constant innovation, and that focus has allowed us to bring in more work,” he said. “We can survive a down-cycle.”
About 450 people worked there a few years ago. Just under 400 work there now in a range of disciplines that include precision machining, manufacturing engineering and high-tech fabrication.
The Bangor plant did land in the public spotlight in 2015 when GE said it would move 500 new jobs overseas — including 80 in Bangor — because Congress let funding for the U.S. Export-Import Bank expire.
It’s not clear how many of those jobs were eventually created in other countries rather than in the U.S. But the Bangor facility has not needed to make any significant layoffs for more than 15 years, Anderson said.
Anderson also said the GE is looking to fill open positions in Bangor and hopes that colleges and technical centers can continue to receive public support. The company has developed partnerships with some Maine learning institutions that have prepared students to work there.