Triumph Group, whose 14,000 workers make aircraft parts in 21 U.S. states, Latin America, Europe, and Asia, hosted a grateful Welsh leader at its Tredyffrin Township headquarters last week.
Carwyn Jones, first minister of Wales, one of the four nations that form the United Kingdom (England is the biggest), made the journey Thursday. He said he did not feel too foreign. "The Welsh know about Pennsylvania," he said.
Founder William Penn sold a chunk of Tredyffrin in the late 1600s to Welsh settlers, who named it (based on the Welsh for "valley town") as well as nearby Radnor, Haverford, and Uwchlan. Welsh miners and metalworkers helped build Pennsylvania: The first minister's great-great-grandfather worked for a time at an upstate tin mill. His office has identified 16 Pennsylvania companies with industrial operations in Wales. Plus Triumph.
Jones stopped in to celebrate Triumph's modest $8 million investment at a plant in the Deeside Enterprise Zone, in northern Wales, to make landing-gear hydraulics for Europe's Airbus consortium. Jones says the move will create 60 jobs and double the capacity of a plant Triumph bought from General Electric last year.
The Welsh had held their breath over the acquisition. Triumph has now decided to move the work to Wales from a plant in China.
Triumph, which earned $206 million on sales of $3.8 billion last year, credited "support" from the Welsh government - Wales pledged $600,000 - along with Wales' skilled aerospace labor force, which will "drive growth and create value for Triumph," according to a statement from Triumph vice president Sheila Spagnolo.
She joined Triumph's chief financial officer, Jeffrey L. McRae; Mark McDonald, a onetime Welsh apprentice who now serves as president of Triumph Actuation Systems' British Isles operations; and other company leaders, in greeting Jones.
Triumph helps fuel an industrial revival for Wales, Jones said later, on a visit to the local British-American Business Council at the Duane Morris law firm in Center City.
"Wales lost 30,000 jobs in mining" when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shut state-run coal mines in the 1980s, Jones, of the Labor Party, recounted. "We lost 30,000 steel jobs."
In a country of just three million, that was crippling. Wales tried to convert itself into a low-wage employment center but found itself unable to compete with Eastern Europe.
So the government revived skilled-labor training programs, offered help with location costs, and won investment from a group of Airbus contractors and other engineering companies - Toyota, General Dynamics, Raytheon.
Despite factory grants and apprenticeships, Jones says Wales has not replaced most industrial or mining jobs; he cited tourism as Wales' largest private employer.
But "our apprenticeship programs are now oversubscribed," giving companies like Triumph choice workers, Jones said. "They see that as a very good sign."
Jones told the chamber that Wales was unlikely to follow Scotland in considering independence from the U.K. "For one thing, we don't have oil," he said.