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Friday, February 17, 2012 - 7:18am

Caterpillar Bringing 1,400 Jobs

Backhoe manufacturer Caterpillar announced Friday that it will shift 1,400 jobs from Japan to northeast Georgia. The Peoria, Ill. company says the move will also create about 3,000 supplier jobs in the Athens area.

Caterpillar will spend $200 million to build the tractor and hydraulic excavator plant. Officials said they plan to break ground next month at a 900-acre site on the border of Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties.

The company said Georgia is closer to customers in the Americas and Europe.

Caterpillar chief executive officer Doug Oberhelman said the state’s ports were factors in the move.

And he cited a controversial vote this summer on a state sales tax to pay for transportation projects.

“We need infrastructure badly in this country," he said. "I know I sell goods to infrastructure [builders] – full disclosure, no problem. But we need to be competitive. Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers are outside this country.”

He added, “The U.S. has to be competitive and Georgia has to be competitive. And that transportation investment act you’re working on is critical to making Georgia competitive.”

When told after the press conference that some elected officials oppose the transportation sales tax because they've made "no new taxes" pledges, Oberhelman said, "America goes nowhere on 'no'."

He publicly said he and all of Georgia's Caterpillar employees will actively promote the vote.

Georgia trails the nation in job growth. It’s the state’s biggest influx of jobs since the 2006 announcement of a Kia auto plant.

Jeff Humphries is a professor at the University of Georgia. He says the announcement is a juggernaut for Northeast Georgia.

“If you look at a plant that employs 1,400 people directly, I think you’re looking at a sales or output inpact for the entire state of Georgia of certainly in excess of $1 billion per year,” he said in an interview.

Local officials said Georgia beat out sites in North and South Carolina for the 1 million square-foot plant. It will begin manufacturing equipment in 2014.