By Bill Archer
For The Register-Herald
GLEN LYN, Va. —
A lot of the news coming out of the Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia coalfields recently hasn’t been positive. With low natural gas prices cutting into thermal coal sales along with tighter federal regulations on emissions and water resources that make coal an unpopular energy source, coal has been in the news for all the wrong reasons of late.
However, in late spring, GE, a company with the slogan “We bring good things to life,” made a significant investment in the international coal mine machinery industry, with the acquisition of Industrea Ltd., of Queensland, Australia, as well as Fairchild International of Glen Lyn.
GE plans to apply its considerable technological expertise to the coal and hard-rock mining business internationally and, in the process, improve on coal’s strong market-share position in the U.S. and globally.
“We believe in mining,” Lorenzo Simonelli, president and chief operating officer of GE Transportation, told customers and friends of Fairchild International last week at GE Fairchild’s headquarters in Glen Lyn. The GE executives met with GE Fairchild employees earlier in the day. He said GE Transportation has watched the macro-trends in the international energy business and has come to the conclusion that, “We do not believe coal is going away.”
He told the mine machinery customers GE has a proven track record in developing technology that can make a difference in underground mining. Without providing much additional detail, Simonelli said that GE Fairchild will unveil some of that new technology at Mine Expo Sept. 24-26 in Las Vegas.
“Mine Expo is going to be our coming-out party,” he said.
Geoff Knox, chief executive officer for GE Mining and GE Transportation in Australia, said GE’s acquisition of Industrea and Fairchild comes at “a unique point in history,” at a time when there is a “unique alignment of the stars,” in terms of merging two high-quality mine equipment companies with GE’s history of technological development.
“In the next 20 years, it’s going to be nice to see this process,” Knox said.
Lori Kieklak, general manager of mining equipment for GE Mining, narrated a Power-Point presentation that provided insights into GE’s business model, its international presence that includes 50 percent of its revenues coming from outside the United States.
“GE wants to be the technology leader,” Kieklak told the GE Fairchild customers. “We’re very serious about technology,” she said, adding that GE has four facilities worldwide dedicated to “next-gen” technology.
“We really see mining as an opportunity for us,” she said.
According to Kieklak, the demand for commodities will grow worldwide. She added that globally, mineral deposits are generally more difficult to extract. She said GE saw Fairchild as a company with a reputation for producing “great products,” with an understanding of the needs of customers and a thorough understanding of the mining business.
During a reception that followed the presentations, Kieklak hinted at the fact that GE Fairchild’s “coming-out party” in Las Vegas will involve the introduction of an “energy storage” component on a GE Fairchild scoop.
“We’re very excited about it,” she said.
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said GE’s commitment “is just a positive boost for the coal industry.”
Raney added that Fairchild has been a leader in the coal mining machinery business since the late Jack Fairchild Sr. founded the business in 1965.
“They have maintained a solid reputation in the industry and GE Transportation brings a lot to the table,” he said.
Raney also noted that GE’s commitment to GE Fairchild, “has to be a big shot in the arm for this community,” he said. Raney took notice that Appalachian Power’s Glen Lyn plant was operational when he drove to the event, but said that it is one of the plants that American Electric Power has announced that it plans to idle.
“Losing those jobs would be hard for any community,” Raney said.
Chris McKlarney, Giles County, Va., economic development director was excited to meet and talk with the GE Transportation executives.
“It was great to see the GE Fairchild sign go up out there on U.S. Route 460,” McKlarney said. “GE makes the third Fortune 500 company with a presence in Giles County.”
Celanese and Caterpillar both have manufacturing facilities in the county.
“I think that’s great for a county with only 17,000 residents,” he said.
— Bill Archer is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph