Nuclear engineering firm to consolidate local operations

Nuclear engineering firm to consolidate local operations in former East Tech plant 

"At this point, we are not able to predict our future employment other than to say that we will evaluate our staff levels to match the growth of our business." Jud Simmons, Babcock & Wilcox

A nuclear engineering firm that had planned to build a new facility at Centre South Riverport will instead move into the nearby former East Tech structure after that business bankrupted last year.

Babcock & Wilcox had planned to merge its Chattanooga operations into a new $4.85 million facility at the Riverport off Amnicola Highway.

However, potential problems with wetlands on the vacant tract prompted the company to look elsewhere and decide to move into the existing structure at the industrial park, the company said.

The company also had planned to bring on 50 more workers with the original move announced last year, but a spokesman Tuesday said hiring is unclear.

"At this point, we are not able to predict our future employment other than to say that we will evaluate our staff levels to match the growth of our business," said Jud Simmons of Babcock & Wilcox in an email. 

Currently, Simmons said, the business employs 32 people full time and roughly that many part time. He said the Charlotte, N.C.-based company is committed to Chattanooga, citing a long-term lease agreement it signed for the former East Tech facility.

The East Tech building had held a custom tooling design and computerized manufacturing business. The structure was built about eight years ago.

The original Babcock & Wilcox tract is located across Riverport Road from the onetime East Tech building. Hamilton County officials said Monday they're seeking a water quality permit on the original site to speed its future use.

While no company has committed to building on that 43.5-acre parcel, the county's permit application to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation mentions a plant with 230,000 square feet of manufacturing space. The application also talks about creation of 200 jobs at a potential plant, though no company is named.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Monday that several businesses, including a pair of auto suppliers, have checked out the site and shared the wetlands concerns.

David DeVaney, president of NAI Charter Real Estate Corp., said the former East Tech building was bought by Dillard Partnership after a mortgage company foreclosed on the property.

He said that when Babcock & Wilcox had trouble finding a tract to house its new facility, the East Tech property became available and it fit the company's needs.

Locally based Dillard paid $1.85 million for the property.

Simmons said Babcock & Wilcox is looking to relocate to the renovated facility in March. The company is expanding its footprint in Chattanooga from 10,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet, he said.

Sybil Topel, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of communications, said the business group is "engaged in the project and excited about [Babcock & Wilcox'] potential for growth."

Babcock & Wilcox works in the nuclear steam generator repair market, doing robotic tooling design and fabrication as well as dealing with inspection technologies.