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Press Release

GE Healthcare Breaks Ground on $17M Helium Liquefaction Facility in Florence

May 20, 2013

  • State, local and company leaders announce 50 new jobs and significant capital investment in advanced manufacturing
  • New 5,000-square-foot facility will capture and liquefy helium for use in GE Healthcare's Magnetic Resonance (MR) "Center of Excellence" in South Carolina

Florence, SC -- May 20, 2013 -- Joined by leaders from Florence and across South Carolina, GE Healthcare today broke ground on a $17 million helium liquefaction facility that will help create 50 jobs for the region. The new, 5,000-square-foot facility, adjacent to GE Healthcare's existing MR production plant, will use proprietary techniques to capture pure helium gas and compress it into stunningly cold liquid form -- which is necessary for MR magnets to function accurately when imaging patients.

"It's a great day in South Carolina, and today's groundbreaking is yet another celebration of quality companies deciding to expand their footprint in the Palmetto State, said Governor Nikki Haley. "We thank GE Healthcare for their confidence in our workforce and economic environment as we look forward to our continuing partnership in the years to come."

United States Representative Tom Rice added, "South Carolina, and Florence in particular, have a lot to be proud of, and this new facility reinforces that fact. To have one of the world's largest manufacturers of superconducting magnets for medical imaging based right here in the Seventh District is no accident, and I'd applaud both this talented workforce and GE Healthcare for making South Carolina home."

The new $17 million facility, creating 50 jobs including 10 permanent positions, will use innovative technology to capture waste helium from ongoing operations and liquefy it for future use in MR superconducting magnets. Helium, used for more than just balloons, is essential to MR production; it's currently the only element on earth that can effectively keep an MR magnet at a necessary, and extremely cold, operating temperature -- more than 440 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

"World-class innovation and high tech jobs are exactly the type of investments that will help keep the Pee Dee and the State of South Carolina on an upward trajectory," said South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell. "Today's groundbreaking is an exclamation point on the economic development story here in Florence, and we applaud GE Healthcare and the local community for this exciting announcement."

"At GE Healthcare, we're committed not only to creating innovative solutions to help physicians best serve patients, but also to the communities in which we're rooted," said Trina Folk, plant manager for GE Healthcare in Florence. "With Florence's strong workforce and the state's positive business climate, we've led the health care industry globally in MR innovation, and we'll continue that focus on global innovation and local investment with this new facility."

Unlike X-ray and Computed Tomography (CT) technology, MR systems use superconducting magnets to help physicians effectively see inside patients without radiation exposure. MR technology offers real-time internal imaging with optimal contrast resolution and is especially effective for soft tissues like the brain, liver, kidneys, breasts and joints.

"MR imaging provides an unparalleled look into a patient's body and helps us diagnose disease early, fast and accurately," said Rob Colones, president and CEO of McLeod Health based in Florence, SC. "We use a GE Healthcare MR system to treat patients at our hospital, and in that system is a SC-made magnet. It's encouraging to be so close to such innovative medical research and production as we all push toward the same goal of serving patients."

Florence a Magnet for Jobs and Investment

With 30-year roots in South Carolina, GE Healthcare's MR magnet production facility in Florence is home to 350 local employees and represents Florence County's seventh largest Industrial Employer. GE Healthcare team members in Florence are high-skilled welders, advanced technicians, assemblers and engineers who boast an average tenure of over two decades, and are intimately involved in their communities -- with over 3,600 local volunteer hours just last year.

"I'm proud to help welcome GE Healthcare's new jobs and investment to my backyard," said South Carolina State Senator Hugh Leatherman. "Florence and GE have had a robust relationship over the years, and this announcement is confirmation that we can and will continue to move South Carolina forward."

South Carolina State Representative Kris Crawford added, "In an evolving global economy, local communities like Florence need to partner with strong existing businesses like GE Healthcare so they can grow their current operations and continue to provide jobs and investment."

GE Healthcare's Florence facility utilizes 730 unique parts from 120 different suppliers to manufacture each MR magnet, which helps support over 8,400 US jobs. GE Healthcare's Florence facility is Voluntary Protection Program-certified for safety performance by the State of South Carolina, and also aligns with both ecomagination and healthymagination, two of GE's global initiatives aimed at transforming healthcare delivery through innovation, partnerships and sustainability.

Florence County Council Chairman James Schofield added, "GE Healthcare has been an essential economic asset to our community for decades, and this announcement emphasizes their commitment to quality, economic growth and belief in our workforce and community support."

"The economic vitality of our region is dependent on employers expanding their workforce and capitalizing on healthy markets both inside and outside South Carolina," said Frank J. "Buddy" Brand, II, chairman of the Florence Economic Development Partnership. "With state exports now at a record level, and GE Healthcare already exporting half of their magnets to markets around the world, we're excited to see GE Healthcare invest even more in Florence."

GE Healthcare uses roughly 5.5 million liters of helium a year at its South Carolina production facility, and dedicates another six million liters per year to servicing MR systems at hospitals and other sites across the United States. Each MR system needs up to several thousand liters of helium stored in a sealed vacuum system surrounding the magnet. Increased helium demand and tightening supply have led GE to invest $1 million in boosting helium efficiency -- including proprietary conservation technologies and helium recycling and re-use methods.

People interested in applying for these new positions should contact SC Works in Florence, SC.

Benjamin Fox
GE Healthcare
[email protected]

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