Jackie Lee was stunned when he applied for a job at General Electric's locomotive plant in far north Fort Worth, but was rejected.
"I thought I would be a shoo-in," said Lee, 49, an aircraft mechanic at American's Alliance Airport facility, which recently closed as part of the airline's bankruptcy reorganization. "I can take a piece of sheet metal and form it however I have to, to fit into an airplane."
Lee, who has 22 years of experience at American but recently accepted a buyout package to leave that job, applied for a position as a locomotive assembler at the plant, known as GE Manufacturing Solutions. It was no ordinary job interview, he said; at one point, he and other applicants were placed on teams and asked to build things with Legos.
The Haslet resident thought he did well in the interview -- his group built an airplane with their toy building blocks -- but afterward he was notified he was "not a fit" for the job.
With about a month to go before the scheduled opening of the locomotive factory, GE Transportation, a division of General Electric, is still trying to fill its first 300 jobs.
The locomotive factory is under construction just west of Texas Motor Speedway. When complete, it will churn out GE's Evolution diesel-electric locomotives that a company official described as "the most fuel efficient and environmentally friendly heavy haul locomotive in the world."
"We're not expecting production to begin until the end of January, so we're still ramping up," said spokesman Manley Ford.
Next door to the locomotive plant, GE has built another factory, where workers will assemble electric drive wheels for mining trucks. Operations in that facility began six months ago.
As of last week, GE had hired 215 workers in Fort Worth, he said. By November, more than 12,000 people had submitted job applications through www.getjobsintexas.com, the company's website.
GE is taking its time with hiring, he said, because the jobs require more than just traditional skills.
"This is not your traditional environment," Ford said. "We are looking for people who have welding and other skills, but also the capacity to work as a team and as partners. It's an exciting place to work."
GE locomotives are sold worldwide, and among the customers is Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway. In addition to the Fort Worth facility, GE Transportation will continue to operate its original plant in Erie, Pa.
Millions in incentives
In May 2011, GE announced plans to convert a vacant building into a nearly 1 million-square-foot locomotive factory at Texas 114 and Farm Road 156, just north of the AllianceTexas development. The white building featuring checkered flag patterns on its exterior was originally built as a speculative property.
A few months after the initial announcement, GE officials said they would also build a second structure -- this one nearly 300,000 square feet -- to make electric drive wheels for mining trucks.
In all, the GE facility could employ 875 by 2016 -- with most employees at the factory earning from $18 to $23.50 per hour. Those are competitive wages in the Texas market, a GE official said, although according to a union official the rate is about $10 an hour less than what's being paid for the same work at GE's locomotive plant in Pennsylvania.
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