Renovation of the 22,000 square-foot engineering center, which took a year to complete from conception through construction, equals GE's largest investment in the facility since it acquired the Waukesha gas engines business in February 2011.
Brian White, president of Waukesha gas engines, said the new center will assist with both GE's retention and recruitment efforts.
According to White, the old facility, which had poor air flow, was an embarrassment to the company, so much so that when bringing potential employees in for interviews, executives wouldn't even show them the facility. White said they would wait until after candidates had accepted a position with GE to give them an official tour. He believes that some candidates turned down positions at GE specifically because of the old office.
"It really would turn people off," White said.
Now, with state-of-the-art technology such as smart boards, better lighting, conference rooms, a break room and areas specifically designed for collaboration in the new facility, White believes employees are happier and likely to be more productive.
"The governor was talking to a couple of the employees while he was up there, and two or three of them said, 'This is a great place to work. I love it here now,'" White said.
When redesigning the center, collaboration was a primary focus.
"The key is especially in engineering you need a lot of collaboration to design new products, and this area makes it just so much easier for people to collaborate now," White said. "That's absolutely key."
He said the new facility has also impacted camaraderie within the company.
"Engineers are a strange breed," he said. "You get some engineers that like to work in the dark and not talk to anybody, but overall the morale has increased dramatically. People want to work longer and harder."
The opening celebration included an announcement of the hiring of 115 employees in Waukesha over the last 18 months. The Waukesha facility currently has about 680 employees.
During the opening, Walker acknowledged GE's engineering and manufacturing contributions to both Waukesha and greater Wisconsin.
"The future of Wisconsin depends on the strength of its businesses, small and large alike," Walker said. "GE's Waukesha gas engines facility epitomizes both Wisconsin's robust manufacturing heritage and a growing spirit of innovation – making us more nimble and competitive on the global stage. We are delighted that GE is continuing to invest in this business, in Waukesha and in our state."