Gov. Brian Kemp speaks after touring the Lockheed-Martin Marietta plant for the first time.

An innovation-driven expansion of Lockheed-Martin’s 850-acre Marietta manufacturing complex provides yet more proof that Georgia is “on the map” for world-class investors, Gov. Brian Kemp said after touring the facility for the first time.  

While Lockheed has made planes in Georgia since 1955, the continued success of the plant — and the state’s ongoing pipeline of projects from around the world — shows that the state can attract major projects.

“Projects like this are what puts Georgia on the map,” Mr. Kemp said. “We’re not just a player here in the United States; we’re a player globally.”  

Mr. Kemp and company officials used the occasion to tout the importance of Senate Bill 6, an amendment to the Georgia tax code he signed in May that expands credits for manufacturers in the state, offering specific breaks for companies and “high-impact aerospace projects.”  

The aerospace provisions seem tailored to the Bethesda, Md.-based defense contractor, as they apply to companies with more than 40 percent of revenue coming from U.S. government contracts.  

Also required to qualify is an investment of at least $500 million and 1,800 promised jobs. Projects meeting these thresholds receive a 6 percent of the capital investment as a state tax credit — and they can still qualify for already generous tax credits of $3,500 per job and other incentives.  

Lockheed-Martin officials are eyeing up to 3,000 direct jobs and $1.6 billion in investment as they build out a new classified production line in Marietta and bid for lucrative contracts including the next-generation fighter jet and other platforms.  

“As new Department of Defense projects are emerging, our team is imagining what’s next — future fighters, manned and unmanned systems, tankers, new transport systems — the solutions are limitless and we don’t have words to describe: in many cases I’m not allowed to describe them,” said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.  

Already, Lockheed’s Advanced Development Team, its secretive California-based innovation arm known as Skunk Works, has already hired 150 engineers and other staff members at the plant — many of them out of Georgia universities. (A skunk mascot was even on hand to greet the governor.)  

“They’re making more in salary that I made in my first 15 years when I came out of school, and those are the kinds of jobs we want. That’s what we’re competing for,” Mr. Kemp said.  

Officials estimated winning these programs could lead to 22,000 spillover jobs at its more than 400 suppliers around the state.  

“Governor, this bill will allow us to be competitive, to bring in those high-paying jobs, not only for this site but also for the state of Georgia, and that’s what makes Georgia very unique in the aerospace industry,” said Rod McLean, vice president and general manager for the company’s Air Mobility & Maritime Missions organization and general manager of the Marietta site.  

Mr. Kemp said it was “dangerous” to predict job numbers, and Lockheed officials were clear that the projected impacts were contingent on winning the work from the U.S. government. S.B. 6 includes mechanisms for clawing back incentives doled out to companies that never reach their promised employment levels.  

But Mr. Kemp seemed confident in the facility’s competitiveness after the tour, during which he was accompanied by First Lady Marty Kemp. The Marietta plant spans 8 million square feet and makes the C-130J Super Hercules, the massive military transport plane operated in 70 countries, as well as center wing assemblies for F-35 fighter jets. Lockheed has 4,500 employees in Marietta and 600 more within the state in Macon and Kings Bay.  

The governor expressed pride that Georgia-made C-130s were helping airlift thousands of Americans and allied evacuees out of Afghanistan, but he also used press availability after the formal event to make clear that while he backs evacuating Afghans who put their lives on the line protecting for U.S. troops, he takes a more cautious view on any large-scale Afghan refugee resettlement in Georgia.  

Mr. Kemp drew fire from conservative groups and right-leaning media outlets in recent weeks after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution characterized his earlier statement criticizing the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as indicating an openness to resettling Afghan refugees.  

The federal government is responsible for vetting refugees and asylum seekers and supervising their resettlement; governors can make the process more difficult but do not have the authority to block it.  

Just before Mr. Kemp spoke at the Marietta plant, reports had begun to circulate about a terror attack Thursday outside the Kabul airport. It would later become clear that the “complex” attack, which included dual suicide bombings and gunfire, had killed 90 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.  

“I just ask all Georgians to keep everyone over there, including those who have been involved in this recent tragedy in your thoughts and prayers,” Mr. Kemp said.  

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...