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Automotive Hot Spots in the Southern Auto Corridor

Fall 2011: Part 1 of 2

Automotive Hot Spots in the Southern Auto Corridor

By Lee Burlett

This issue's cover story as well as Mike Randle's Southbound column (page 4) predicts an economic expansion of the manufacturing variety that the South hasn't seen in decades. No industry sector in the South represents that expansion better than the Southern Automotive Corridor. Activity in the Southern Automotive Corridor has been off the charts the past 18 months.

To give you an idea, check out these numbers: In 2009, there were 35 significant automotive-related projects announced in the Southern Automotive Corridor. That figure rose to 88 in calendar year 2010. In 2011, there were 184 major automotive industry announcements in the Southern Auto Corridor, or more than five times as many as in 2009.

Furthermore, there were only two significant plant closures in the Southern Auto Corridor in 2010 compared with dozens in 2008 and 2009. The automotive industry is clearly back and stronger than ever in the South. Here are just a few examples of what occurred in the region in calendar year 2011.

Highlights in 2011 include:

  • GM brings back production and 1,900 jobs to Spring Hill, Tenn. plant
  • GM invests $500m to retool Arlington, Tex. plant
  • GM invests $380m to expand Wentzville, Mo. plant
  • GM invests $131m, adds 250 jobs at Bowling Green, Ky, facility
  • Ford announces $1.1 billion investment in Claycomo, Mo. plant; 1,600 new jobs
  • Ford announces $600m expansion of Louisville plant, 1,600 jobs
  • Ford announces third shift in Louisville, another 1,000 jobs
  • Toyota era begins in Mississippi
  • Toyota expands engine facilities in W. Va. and Ala.
  • Toyota expands San Antonio plant; adds 1,000 jobs
  • Honda expands its Lincoln, Ala. plant
  • Nissan brings new production to Canton, Miss. plant
  • Nissan to build Infiniti model in U.S. for the first time at Smyrna, Tenn. facility
  • Nissan starts hiring process for 1,400 jobs at Smyrna electric battery plant
  • Caterpillar announces new plant in Victoria, Tex.; 600 jobs
  • Caterpillar opens $426m plant in Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Continental Tire building $500m, 1,700-employee plant in Sumter, S.C.
  • Bridgestone expands three plants, announces new one in Aiken, S.C.; $1.4 billion invested, about 1,000 new jobs
  • Michelin invests $200m, adds 270 jobs at Lexington, S.C. facility
  • ZF Group expands in Laurens Co., S.C.; transmission plant to employ 1,200
  • Daimler Trucks hires 700 workers at N.C. plant
  • Volvo Trucks recalls 700 workers to Virginia plant
  • Kia adds 1,000 employees at West Point, Ga. plant
  • Hyundai announces it will invest $173m to expand Montgomery, Ala. engine plant
  • GE Transportation to build locomotives in Fort Worth
  • Volkswagen era begins in Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • VW can't meet demand for new Passat built in Chattanooga; adds hundreds of workers
  • Mercedes-Benz begins first phase of $2 billion expansion in Vance, Ala.
  • BMW announces $100m expansion of Greer, S.C. facility

Since the South is in the midst of a major expansion of its automotive sector, we thought it would be a good idea to provide those in the industry a guide to some of the hot spots in the Southern Automotive Corridor. The following locations were chosen based on their success in the industry over the last 10 years. The locations are in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. We will profile automotive industry hot spots in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia in the spring 2012 edition.

Baldwin County, Ala.

The South Alabama Mega Site (McCallum-Sweeney certified) located in Baldwin County, Ala. is truly one of a kind. Sitting 45 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico (the same distance from the Gulf as Houston, Tex.) yet with an average elevation of over 260 feet, the site offers everything a huge manufacturer like an automaker needs.Many of today's mega-size manufacturing projects require mega sites, 1,000 or more acres free of costly and time consuming issues related to wetlands, geological, environmental, archeological and endangered species-type factors.

Certified mega sites, with all due diligence complete and owned or optioned by local governments or economic development organizations, are rare. Those which have extraordinary access to both North-South and East-West interstates and are a short distance from a major international port, two commercial airports and world class beaches are even rarer.

With over 3,000 acres, electric service from two different utilities, extremely large water and wastewater capacity, a regional population of over 1.2 million, access to the main line of CSX railroad, outstanding education opportunities, business- friendly government and a nationally recognized job training system, your list is probably down to one.

The South Alabama Mega Site (McCallum-Sweeney certified) located in Baldwin County, Ala. is truly one of a kind. Sitting 45 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico (the same distance from the Gulf as Houston, Tex.) yet with an average elevation of over 260 feet, the site offers everything a huge manufacturer needs.

Baldwin County, with its population of over 180,000 and its world class quality of life, sits between Pensacola, Fla. and Mobile, Ala., meaning easy access to a labor force of over 435,000 and access to world markets via deepwater port and via air transportation.

The site is bordered by I-65 on the north, the CSX railroad on the south, 4-lane Alabama Highway 287 on the west, with plans for an extension of the 4-lane, limited access Foley Beach Express to the east.

It is 32 miles from the Port of Mobile, 41 miles from Mobile's airport and 62 miles from Pensacola's commercial airport and lies 23 miles north of I-10, linked by a four lane road.

Proclaimed to be the logical extension to the existing Alabama Automotive Corridor, the site is approximately 130 miles from Hyundai's Alabama OEM plant, with access to potential suppliers without competing for labor with the OEM.

Cullman, Ala.

Cullman, Ala. is an excellent location for automotive companies and suppliers because of its prime location on Interstate 65. Located in the heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor, Cullman is the ideal location for "just-in-time" delivery.

Cullman County is ideally located in north central Alabama within 600 miles of half the population of the U.S. and is a 50-minute drive via Interstate 65 from Huntsville and Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama. The county boasts 140 manufacturing/distribution operations with more than a dozen producing for the automotive industry.

Cullman is home to Tier 1 suppliers including: REHAU, Topre America and Alabama Cullman Yutaka Technologies. These companies supply Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Kia, BMW and Nissan. Cullman is: 85 miles to Mercedes in Vance, Ala.; 95 miles to Honda in Lincoln, Ala.; 120 miles to the GM plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.; 140 miles to Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala.; 180 miles to Kia in West Point, Ga.; and, 300 miles to Nissan in Canton, Miss.

Japanese automotive supplier, Topre America Corp. has announced a $109 million capital investment and plant expansion creating an additional 250 jobs. With this expansion, Topre America will open a new press line and construct a new warehouse area.

Cullman offers a skilled workforce; cooperative local government; low turnover and absenteeism; Wallace State, a state-of-the-art community college; an exceptional school system that consistently ranks in the Top 5 in Alabama; and a quality of life coveted by other communities.  Cullman was recently named the "Best Place to Raise Children in Alabama" by Bloomberg Businessweek.

The community is a non-union area. Less than 0.5% of the labor force has third party representation. Cullman has not had a new manufacturing union established in more than 40 years.

The quality of life, interstate and transportation system, access to four major airports (Birmingham, Huntsville, Nashville and Atlanta), low crime, excellent education systems and quality labor force have helped Cullman become a leader in recruiting and retaining industry in Alabama.

Gadsden, Ala.

Automotive parts manufacturers continue to find Gadsden to be an attractive production location. In 2010, F.S. Fehrer Automotive GmbH in Kitzingen, Germany established a plant in Gadsden to make seat pads for Mercedes and VW and in 2011 The NARMCO Group in Windsor, Ontario chose Gadsden for a new automotive stampings operation.

Chambers County, Ala.

Chambers County, Alabama, USA. This hot spot for automotive is strategically located between Montgomery, Ala. and Atlanta, Ga. Located along Interstate 85, the area offers excellent access to those markets as well as Columbus, Ga. and Fort Benning. All industrial parks are within a 70-minute drive time of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

KIA Motors Manufacturing Georgia's facility is located less than two miles from the cities of Lanett and Valley. A prime location choice, Chambers County is leading the way to new automotive suppliers in a number of communities in the Southeast. Recent announcements include:  AJIN USA, Leehan America, Daedong Hi-Lex America, Wooshin USA, Saehaesung Alabama, Great Lakes Metal Stamping and other industrial and retail firms.

Covington County, Ala.

Saehaesung, one of the last Hyundai suppliers to announce in Alabama, located in Covington County in October 2006 with an announced workforce of 75. The company initially located in a 39,000-square-foot building in the Andalusia Industrial Park. The operation in Andalusia has grown steadily and in spring 2009 Saehaesung announced it would more than double its size. The City of Andalusia built a new 100,000-square- foot facility in the Andalusia Industrial Park. Today Saehaesung occupies the facility and employs over 200. In addition, the company is also doing business with Kia as well as Hyundai.

Other Alabama locations you may want to study include Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Jackson County, Auburn, Opelika, the Shoals region, Talladega County, Elmore County, the Lake Martin region, Greenville, DeKalb County, Limestone County, Selma-Dallas County, Brewton, Phenix City, Walker County, Guin, Anniston, Pell City-St. Clair County, Shelby County, Birmingham and Ozark-Dale County.


Marion-Crittenden County, Ark.

Marion is home to a large Hino Motors Manufacturing USA facility that produces axle and knuckle components for Toyota. The 400,000-square-foot stamping and components manufacturing plant was established in 2006 and has a capacity to produce 300,000 axle units per year.

Heber Springs, Ark.

Heber Springs is home to Saint Jean industries, a parts manufacturer and supplier. The company underwent a major expansion in 2010 that resulted in 250 new jobs. Saint Jean manufactures high quality aluminum parts for the automotive industry at its Heber Springs plant. The company supplies products for ZF, a large German supplier to a variety of automakers including General Motors and Ford.

Osceola, Ark.

Denso operates a large facility in Osceola as does Charlotte-based Nucor in this small east Arkansas market. The city is located between Interstate 55 and the Mississippi River, 50 miles north of Memphis, Tenn.

Other Arkansas locations you may want to study include Little Rock, Texarkana, Pine Bluff, Rogers and Batesville.


Monroe-Ouachita Parish, La.

Monroe-West Monroe is located in the northeastern part of Louisiana along I-20 and is within 20 miles of the Franklin Farms site, a nationally-certified mega-site for automobile manufacturing and within 150 miles of the Nissan facility in Jackson, Miss. Monroe-West Monroe is also home to the University of Monroe (ULM), Delta Community College and Louisiana Technical College.

Richland Parish, La.

Richland Parish is where the state-owned Franklin Farms mega site is located. We can say without a doubt Franklin Farms is one of the most attractive sites for a major automotive assembly that is available in the Southern Auto Corridor.

Shreveport, La.

Shreveport has been home to a large General Motors assembly plant since 1981. The GM facility, which is slated for closure this summer, has attracted suppliers throughout the state of Louisiana.

Other Louisiana locations you may want to study include Alexandria, Morehouse Parish, Tallulah-Madison Parish, Lake Charles and Tangipahoa Parish. 


Tishomingo County, Miss.

This rural area is located at the intersection of waterways, railroads, and highways and is within 30 minutes to an urban area. With a port facility and a metal processing company, Tishomingo County is a steel and composites fabrication cluster. Recent announcements include Skyline Steel, Roll Form Group, G&G Steel, TBEI/HEIL, Monotech, Contract Fabricators, Ershigs, Tiffin Motorhomes, KX Technologies, and automotive supplier Dennen Steel.

In addition to transportation options, industry management sings the praises of the local community college job training program designed to meet specific onsite needs at no cost to the company. With 143,000 workers in the labor force region, a labor study found that employers rate worker productivity as 90% excellent or good. The efficient local workforce enables Tiffin Motorhomes to produce the highest quality motor home made in the USA.

Tishomingo County is working to improve educational opportunities for its current and future workforce. The county has several STAR schools, the highest academic rating. Local ACT scores are above the national average. The county guarantees educational grants to high school graduates to attend community college. Local foundations fund college and advanced degrees for qualified applicants.

Columbus/Lowndes County, Miss.

Few places in the Southern Automotive Corridor have seen bigger automotive-related deals in the last six years than has Columbus. PACCAR's truck engine plant and Severcorr's massive steel production facility together represent a total investment of about $1.5 billion. With a location right in the middle of major German, Japanese and Korean assembly plants, Lowndes County is a no brainer place to set up shop.

Grenada, Miss.

"Southern excellence, global success," is the motto found on the Grenada Economic Development District's Web site. This small town is located on Interstate 55, about halfway between Jackson and Memphis, and within a two-hour drive from both Nissan and Toyota's plants in Mississippi. Grenada has been a hub for manufacturing for decades, with more than 32 percent of employment concentrated in the manufacturing sector.

Alcorn and Prentiss Counties, Miss.

Alcorn and Prentiss Counties are located in the northeastern corner of the state and are nicely positioned for Toyota suppliers since the Toyota plant is located in nearby Blue Springs, Miss.

Tupelo, Miss.

The opening of Toyota's assembly plant in nearby Blue Springs, Miss. means a new era of manufacturing in Tupelo. One of the oldest manufacturing centers in the Small Town South, Tupelo is on the verge of greatness again as a result of the new Toyota factory. 

Canton/Madison County, Miss.

Canton/Madison County, Miss. is home to Nissan's newest North American assembly plant (opened in 2002) and more than a dozen major suppliers on the site of the Nissan facility. Nissan's Canton plant is undergoing a change in lines as are many assembly plants in the U.S. Located just north of Jackson, Miss., there have been billions spent by those in the automotive sector in Canton.

Other Mississippi locations you may want to study include Starkville, Greenwood, Batesville, Ripley, Pontotoc County, Jackson, Winona, Kosciusko, Yazoo City, Natchez, McComb, West Point, Itawamba County, New Albany, Laurel and Senatobia.


Kansas City, Mo.

The automotive industry in KC was revived in a big way in 2011 when Ford announced its plans to invest $1.1 billion in its Claycomo plant. The expansion will add a second shift for production of the F-150 pickup model and add a new line for the assembly of Ford's full-sized Transit van model. It is the first time that model has been assembled in the U.S. The project will create 1,600 new jobs.

St. Louis, Mo.

The automotive industry has a long history in St. Louis. For decades St. Louis took pride in being the largest automotive manufacturing center outside of Detroit. That was before both Chrysler and Ford shut down plants in the St. Louis region in recent years. Yet, St. Louis got a huge boost in the fall of 2011 when General Motors announced it will invest $380 million at its St. Louis area plant in Wentzville to build an all-new Chevrolet Colorado midsize pickup truck. GM will also begin a second shift at the factory to increase capacity of its Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans to meet market demand. The two projects will add 1,660 workers to the St. Louis plant's workforce. 

Other Missouri locations you may want to study include Springfield- Greene County and Joplin. 


Ardmore, Okla.

Ardmore is located just across the border from the Dallas/Fort Worth MSA. Michelin operates a large tire manufacturing plant in Ardmore and there are several other automotive parts and components companies that have set up shop in the Oklahoma community.

Pryor, Okla.

Pryor is home to the massive MidAmerica Industrial Park, one of the largest manufacturing centers in the entire South. Located near Tulsa, the 9,000-acre MidAmerica Industrial Park can accommodate just about any size automotive project.

Other Oklahoma locations you may want to study include Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Bartlesville, McAlester and Miami.


Athens/McMinn County, Tenn.

McMinn County, located between Chattanooga and Knoxville, is already a mature automotive industry location in the Southern Auto Corridor. DENSO, the big Japanese parts supplier, operates a plant in McMinn County that employs over 1,000 workers.

Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chattanooga landed a big fish when Volkswagen announced its $1 billion plant at the Enterprise South industrial park in 2008. The development guarantees that the Chattanooga area will be one of the most active regions in the Southern Auto Corridor for years to come.

Tri-Cities, Tenn.

This large northeast Tennessee/southwest Virginia region that includes the cities of Johnson City, Bristol and Kingsport, is a haven for those in the automotive industry. Robert Bosch, Exide, Magnetti Morelli and Arvin Meritor all have major operations in the Tri-Cities.

Dyersburg, Tenn.

Dyersburg is located in northwest Tennessee near Memphis and the Interstate 155 bridge that spans the Mississippi River. None of Dyersburg's manufacturing jobs are unionized and several parts suppliers operate in Dyersburg/Dyer County.

Anderson County, Tenn.

Anderson County is in the Knoxville MSA and is home to several large automotive component manufacturers, including a big plant operated by Aisin Automotive Castings.

Spring Hill/Maury County, Tenn.

Maury County is now home to the revived GM plant, formerly the Saturn facility in Spring Hill. GM announced in the fall quarter it will bring assembly back to Spring Hill for the first time in three years. The reopening will result in almost 2,000 new jobs.

Other Tennessee locations you may want to study include Clarksville, Cleveland, Jackson, Knoxville-Oakridge, Lebanon-Wilson County., McMinnville, Morristown, Cookeville, Crossville, Coffee County and Murfreesboro-Rutherford County. 


Fort Worth-Arlington, Tex.

Fort Worth-Arlington has a nice automotive cluster since GM operates its only full-sized SUV plant in Arlington. GM has operated in Arlington for over 50 years and that plant is undergoing a $500 million expansion. The north Texas markets also recently won a plant from GE that will build locomotives. Lear, along with other suppliers, also call Arlington home. SCS/Frigette, which produces automotive heating and air systems, is located in Fort Worth.

San Antonio, Tex.

San Antonio is home to Toyota's 2.2-million-square-foot pickup truck plant that brought automotive assembly to South Texas for the first time ever in 2006. The plant recently underwent a $100 million expansion that created an additional 1,000 jobs. On-site Toyota suppliers include Curtis-Maruyasu, Futaba, Kautex, Metalsa, PPG Industries, Tenneco Automotive, MetoKote, Toyotetsu and 13 others.

Denton, Tex.

Peterbilt Motors assembles heavy duty trucks at its plant in Denton. The facility houses about 1,500 employees. Peterbilt has invested over $60 million in the plant since 2006.

Garland, Tex.

Navistar International, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of commercial trucks, operates a truck assembly plant in Garland. The plant builds the company's largest variety and complexity of vehicles.

Houston, Tex.

Houston recently won a nice project when Japan's Toshiba Corp. announced in 2010 it would add the production of electric traction motors for hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles at its Houston plant. The Houston facility is Toshiba's first overseas manufacturing base for automotive propulsion motors, which are currently produced in Japan. Houston is also selling itself as a location for a major assembly plant, with a site near the Port of Houston.

McAllen, Tex.

TS Tech North America is occupying for their North American Trim Division Headquarters, approximately 130,000 square feet in McAllen, Tex. (pictured).  McAllen also has available a large site suitable for automotive assembly. The McAllen/Reynosa MSA is located on the Texas/Mexico border in South Texas and Northeast Mexico approximately 200 miles south of the Toyota plant in San Antonio and approximately 180 miles north of the Daimler Chrysler and General Motors assembly plants in Saltillo, Mexico. This strategic location enables the area to hold over 45 automotive suppliers. Within 150 miles of McAllen/Reynosa that number increases to over 200. Today McAllen's local automotive suppliers are shipping components to over 57 assembly plants in 39 countries.

Specifically, TS Tech North America, a supplier of seat laminations for Honda Automotive, has transferred their North American headquarters to the McAllen MSA. Benefiting from the world-class industrial infrastructure, abundant young labor force, and low cost of manufacturing, TS Tech leased over 130,000 square feet in the McAllen MSA.

Likewise, TRW, a supplier to GM, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota, grew their current seat belt division in Reynosa by constructing a 75,000-square-foot expansion in 2011.

In addition, Zanini Industries, an Italian automotive supplier of chrome-plated decorative plastic modules and components used in parts like wheel covers, engine covers and radiator grills, is finalizing its negotiation to lease a 100,000-square-foot space in Reynosa. They currently provide their products to Fiat, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Peugeot, Maserati, GM, Chrysler and Ford, to name a few.

Furthermore, in the efforts to position itself as a pro-business community, the market has prepared an automotive site within the 1,200 acre, "Class A" Sharyland Business Park. This U.S.-based site is located adjacent to a new international bridge that will connect it directly to a 16,000-acre industrial development in Reynosa, Mexico located just two miles away.

This positioning provides unique opportunities for any automotive assembly plant to locate established suppliers in Reynosa and an assembly plant in McAllen using the U.S. labor force, substantially reducing costs and improving efficiency and productivity.

This unique blend of resources is what allows McAllen's established automotive suppliers like TRW to continue to expand their capabilities and offer new operations like TS Tech North America and Zanini Industries the ability to establish their presence in a new market, while increasing their overall efficiencies.

Other Texas locations you may want to study include Lubbock, El Paso, Midland, Waco, Sealy, San Marcos, Laredo, Georgetown, Belton, Tyler, Longview, Harlingen, Ennis, Killeen-Temple, Carrollton, Seguin and Brownsville.

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