TRUCK workers at Sandbach and Middlewich are celebrating as ERF this week toasted success in being named the preferred bidder for a massive military contract.
The £1.1 billion contract with the Ministry of Defence will secure 120 jobs with the possibility of up to 30 being created at the plan.
Bosses say the deal has safeguarded 600 jobs in the UK - at ERF's Middlewich and Swindon bases and at its subcontractor businesses across the country.
The MoD deal has also cemented ERF's future at 'its spiritual home' in South Cheshire, according to MAN ERF chief executive operator Des Evans.
The firm, owned by German truckmaker MAN, has bought the 21-acre site off ERF Way. It has also established partnerships with other leading companies to lease out parts of the site.
Mr Evans thanked the workers for their resilience as the company went through hard times during the last two years. Staff levels at the plant plummeted, with hundreds laid off.
The firm's move from Sandbach to Middlewich, then partly to Austria, seemed to spell the end of the line. Earlier this year the company applied for planning permission to turn part of its £28m purpose-built lorry plant into a warehouse.
Now Mr Evans is talking about securing jobs until 2013 thanks to the contract, and even taking on new starters. He is keen to recruit school-leavers and other students who he says will be able to work through the ranks in the Vehicle Modification Unit and 'achieve greatness'.
Peter Weirs, of Congleton Borough's Chamber of Commerce, said: 'It's great news for sustaining jobs and quite different to what we saw two years ago.
'We need to encourage school-leavers into the industry. We have a bit of a problem where we tend to push our young people through A-levels and on to degrees when we are not supplying what businesses want - young recruits.'
'Getting MAN ERF to stay is also good for the site. It can encourage other businesses.'
The contract is the biggest the truck industry has seen in Europe for 25 years. The Government is expected to rubber-stamp its decision before Christmas, and the first fleet of trucks is due off the production line by February 2007.
The plant is likely to be used to finish off' the vehicles, completing any work not done by the company's subcontractors. Quality control checks will also take place at the site prior to delivery.
The project will provide more than 5,000 vehicles, with an option to buy thousands more under consideration. The vehicles will be capable of transporting bulk equipment to troops.
Lord Bach, Minister for De-fence Procurement, said: 'These trucks are the workhorses of our ground troops and they will bring our front-line forces a much-improved capability for transporting vital supplies.'