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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
From left, composite structures general manager Mike Blair, Gov. Gary Herbert, Exelis CEO Dave Melcher and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, watch Erin Remkes, lay-up technician lead, lay carbon fiber patterns on a tool during a tour of the new ITT Exelis composites and integrated assemblies facility in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's manufacturing economy received a boost Thursday as ITT Exelis launched the grand opening of its composite design and manufacturing center.

The new facility provides increased capacity and enhanced automation capability for advanced commercial and military composite aircraft structures, company officials said.

Composite structures are used by airframers as an alternative to metal structural parts on commercial and military aircraft, as well as on unmanned aerial vehicles. The structures help improve efficiency by decreasing an aircraft's weight and fuel consumption, while increasing resilience to environmental conditions and in-flight stress.

With the company's new facility, Exelis will be better positioned to meet customers' growing needs for composites, said Jim Barber, vice president and general manager of the Exelis Integrated Structures business.

"Strong demand from our domestic and international customers has fueled this expansion," Barber said. "This facility leverages our core strengths and capabilities as we invest in new technologies to meet the needs of our customers and the aerospace industry."

Headquartered in McLean, Va., Exelis offers services indcluding networked communications, sensing and surveillance technology, electronic warfare, navigation, air traffic solutions and information systems, as well as cyber security, composite aerostructures, logistics and technical services.

The company, which employs about 20,500 people worldwide, generated $5.8 billion in sales in 2011.

The Utah operation designs and manufactures composite structures and assemblies — employing approximately 300 workers. The facility produces parts for military applications, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Marine Corps' heavy lift helicopter, the CH-53K. The company also provides engines to General Electric for a wide variety of aircraft and vacuum tanks for several of the Boeing 7-series jets.

Barber said the Utah expansion aligns with the company's strategy to invest strategically in broad-based government and commercial solutions, such as aerostructures and air traffic management.

By adding 250,000 square feet to its Salt Lake City footprint and hiring 100 employees during the past year, Exelis is taking the necessary steps to meet military and commercial demand, he said.

"We had to expand to support our existing customers," Barber said.

The company plans to continue expanding at a similar pace for the foreseeable future as long as the market allows, he added.

"Our ultimate goal is to have our children's children's children working here for a long, long time," Barber said.

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In June 2011, ITT Electronics received approval for a $33.6 million post-performance incentive from the Governor's Office of Economic Development. At the time, the company said its expansion plans would increase its Utah operations and bring approximately 2,700 jobs to the state over the next 15 years, with wages of those positions exceeding 125 percent of the Salt Lake County average salary.

In October 2011, ITT Corp. spun off its defense and water technology businesses to form three separate, publically traded companies — Xylem Inc., ITT Corp. and Exelis Inc.

Barber said the composites industry base that has been created in Utah over the years made expanding a smart strategy for future growth.

"The investment Exelis has made will benefit Utah's economy and reputation as a technology leader for years to come," Gov. Gary Herbert said.

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