HAI Convention News

Promoting free trade, Bush, Schwarzenegger tour Robinson factory

 - February 18, 2008, 4:15 AM

While Robinson Helicopter has had many visitors to its plant in the company’s 35-year history, certainly none were more noteworthy than President George W. Bush, who stopped by the Torrance, Calif. facility last month to deliver a speech on free trade agreements.

Flanked by company founder Frank Robinson and the ‘Terminator’ himself, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bush spoke of the potential job-creation benefits of tariff-free trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. As an example, the president cited a proposed agreement with Colombia that would eliminate tariffs on U.S. helicopter exports to that country, which currently run as high as 10 percent and include a 5-percent duty on spare parts. Terminating the tariffs would presumably boost  export sales of helicopters.

Bush’s comments were aimed at a Congress that has threatened to hold up the trade agreements until a new program aiding U.S. workers who have lost jobs to foreign competition is approved. “Free trade means good paying jobs for Americans,” Bush said. “It matters to our economy, and it matters to the jobs right here.”

Robinson was chosen as the venue for the speech based on the strength of its international sales. Last year more than 70 percent of the company’s sales were to export markets. Robinson produces more helicopters than any other manufacturer and has service centers in more than 50 countries.

Last year the company set a new civil manufacturing record, producing 823 new helicopters including 664 R44s, the most ever for one specific helicopter model in a single year. To better meet future demand, Robinson plans to ramp up its production rate–which averaged 18 per week–even further this year.