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GE Will Continue F-35 Engine Fight

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By DAN SEWELL, AP Business Writer

EVENDALE, Ohio (AP) _ Folks involved with the GE Aviation plant in southwest Ohio are used to being in the target sights of Washington budget-cutters, but the latest shot at a key project here has hit hard.

The Republican-controlled House voted Wednesday to cancel $450 million for an alternative engine being developed for the F-35 fighter jet. The vote backed Barack Obama’s administration and the Pentagon in saying that the GE Aviation-Rolls Royce joint project can be sacrificed in the effort to rein in the federal deficit.

President George W. Bush’s administration had said the same thing, but the House –with backing from Ohio political leaders including now-Speaker John Boehner –had kept funding the program. Boehner’s district neighbors the plant.
Word of the vote spread quickly in this northern Cincinnati suburb just off of Interstate 75.

“It’s sad. It could hurt,” said John Pollock, a GE retiree. But he said he wasn’t surprised.

“We have to cut money somewhere,” he said.

Jeff Famble, whose wife works at GE, said losing the project would come at a bad time.

“Ohio is one of the states that needs jobs the most. We’re trying to get the economy going,” Famble said. “I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes in Washington, but I know what the scene is here: We need jobs. You’ve got take care of your backyard.”

Some 1,000 jobs, including GE employees and subcontractors, are linked to the project in the Cincinnati area, GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy said. The General Electric Co. division has long been a major player in the southwest Ohio economy. It still has some 7,500 employees in the region, though that’s less than half of what it had in Cold War days.

Kennedy said the workers will keep going on the project.

“They will continue to until we get this resolved. It’s a setback, but it’s not over,” Kennedy said. “We will take this fight to the Senate.”

Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, whose district includes the plant, pledged Wednesday to keep battling for funding, as did Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat.

Political ramifications remain to be seen. While Ohio is a pivotal swing state in presidential elections, Cincinnati’s northern Cincinnati suburbs are solidly Republican and the GE Aviation project has enjoyed support from leaders of both parties in the region.

The main engine is built by Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

The House vote provides some job security in Connecticut, said James Parent, chief negotiator for the machinists union that represents 3,700 workers at Pratt & Whitney there. If the GE venture were funded, fewer jobs would be available in Connecticut, Parent said.

“I see this as a win for Connecticut,” he said. “This is a big thing for us.”
___
AP Business Writer Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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