LAFAYETTE, Ga. — General Electric's appliance manufacturer plans to add as many as 100 jobs here by July.
The addition will bump Roper Corp. employment to about 1,400 workers, rivaling pre-recession levels as Walker County's largest private employer slowly recovers from the housing plunge.
"Americans haven't given up yet," said U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Georgia, after touring Roper on Tuesday. "The biggest thing we can do from a federal level is just get out of the way."
The 39-year-old, 1.2 million-square-foot cooking product plant laid off about 30 percent of its workforce after taking a hit in 2008. But the company has hired most all of the employees wanting their jobs back.
"We hoped we'd be growing more," said Mike Montgomery, fabrication and finishing operations manager. "We're just happy we're growing."
Roper's ability to grow ultimately depends on the housing market. The company's ovens don't have anywhere to go unless people start building new homes. That's held the company to slow, single-digit growth.
"Until housing comes back, it's going to stay slow, I'm afraid,' Montgomery said.
Roper has a hand in nearly every aspect of production, from product development to assembly to final testing.
The company has been able to hire largely by pulling overseas manufacturing back to the state of Georgia.
American-made products are closer to the end user, slashing related fuel and transportation costs. Add to that growth in traditional export countries such as China, and the United States becomes a more attractive manufacturing option.
"We're finding ways to use all this space and all these people," Montgomery said as nearby workers crafted stainless steel control panels previously manufactured in Italy. "The U.S. is a great place to make stuff again."