In German a piece of cake with heaps of whipped cream is called sahnestueck, which Alexandra Segers says can translate to mean “the choicest cut.” Segers helped German-owned BOCAR select Huntsville for its first U.S. plant, and calls the city a choice location that could indeed be named after this delectable dessert.
Automotive manufacturing is flourishing in Alabama, and an indispensable part of the boom is the growing number of suppliers operating in the state that support its auto sector.
BOCAR is among the latest to set up shop in Alabama. The global auto supplier manufactures aluminum and plastic precision parts and assemblies for automotive applications for major automakers, such as Nissan, Ford, GM and Toyota. The company is investing $115 million, with plans to employ more than 300 people in its new Limestone County facility.
As principal of SSOE Group, an international project delivery solutions firm based in Toledo, Ohio, Segers conducted an exhaustive, yearlong search to find the right U.S. home for BOCAR, checking out 45 potential locations.
“BOCAR is a family-owned company with a long tradition in the automotive industry, ” explains Segers, a noted site selection expert. “As a leading Tier 1 automotive supplier in the industry, and because this is their first manufacturing plant in the United States, we did a very thorough and technically complex evaluation of all our short-listed sites.”
Several factors made Huntsville the choicest — availability of a skilled workforce, AIDT training programs and the Alabama Robotics Technology Park, located four miles from the site.
Just off Interstate 65, the site of the new plant provides ideal logistical conditions for BOCAR to supply parts to major OEMs. In addition, the site provides an easy connection to a rail line, and the Huntsville airport is 10 miles east.
The 72-acre site is also large enough for expansion. Set to open in spring 2018, Phase 1 will consist of a 350, 000-square-foot plant. Future expansion could double the size, Segers says.
Justin Rummer, who will manage the Huntsville plant, says the location was chosen for the quality of the local workforce, the well-established educational infrastructure for technology and industry, and the centralized location.
BOCAR officials point out that the Huntsville facility will allow them to localize production of lightweight body structure parts in the United States, which satisfies the demand for weight reduction and lowering CO2 emissions.
Tom Hill, president and CEO of Limestone County Economic Development Association, agrees that Huntsville’s many attributes set it apart from the competition.
“They picked us because we are right in the center of the new automotive world. We are very well positioned to go in any direction in the Southeast, which helps with logistics costs. And Huntsville has the high quality education to attract employees, from K-12 to the university level.”
BOCAR’s superior technology and overall performance going back 60 years is what sets the company apart from other suppliers that provide similar products and services to major auto manufacturers, adds Rummer, who started in the automotive industry when he was 24 years old.
The first leg of his career was with a highly complex rubber component manufacturer. “This was a ‘greenfield’ startup and I was a member of the 12-person startup team. I remained with this company for 10 years as we grew to 750 personnel and revenue exceeding $175 million.”
Rummer then moved into die-casting, machining and assembly manufacturing with a global corporation and became responsible for its first foreign company located in the United States. During his tenure, he says, the company quadrupled in size and volume, with final revenues topping $185 million yearly and 843 employees.
“I’ve been responsible for three ‘turn-around operations’ of companies that were failing financially. These were met with success in all cases.”
Conditions in Alabama for BOCAR and other automotive suppliers are indeed robust these days. Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and treasurer of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, notes that 2017 ushered in five new supplier announcements, along with expansion announcements by a number of existing suppliers.
Along with BOCAR in Huntsville, new auto suppliers in 2017 include Grupo Antolin, which announced plans to invest nearly $10.4 million to establish a manufacturing facility in Jefferson County that will employ 150 people by 2020. Based in Spain, the supplier manufactures a variety of interior parts, including doors, seats, lighting fixtures and trim.
Korean-based Guyoung Tech USA has invested $7.5 million and will employ 130 people to make seating components at its new Montgomery facility, joining a number of companies that supply Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama.
Also supplying Hyundai is Seoyon e-Hwa Interior Systems Alabama. The Korea-based company has a supply facility in Selma and is opening another in Montgomery. Products include door trim, seats, head linings and other interior vehicle parts.
SAS Automotive Systems, a Germany-based auto supplier that is a global leader in assembling cockpit modules, announced plans in 2017 to open a plant in Tuscaloosa to support the production of the next generation of Mercedes Benz SUV. Production is scheduled to begin in 2018 and will create 170 new jobs.
In 2017, Sewell says, supplier firms announced investments totaling more than $358 million and more than 1, 300 new jobs.
At the same time, Alabama’s OEMs — Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota — announced more than $1.2 billion in investments, adding more than 470 jobs. Expansion and new industry announcements by bus maker New Flyer, commercial truck maker Autocar and Senators Coaches maker Geomarc totaled more than $145 million, with an anticipated 790 new jobs.
Says Ron Davis, president of the Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association, “Suppliers locating in Alabama to be close to our car manufacturers helps to improve the efficiency of our auto industry. And we’re excited to see the addition of BOCAR to our supply base in Alabama.”
Davis says the support suppliers give Alabama’s automotive industry is “extremely healthy” and he’s confident that such healthy conditions will continue.
Sewell also anticipates more growth ahead in the state’s automotive supply chain. Expansions from existing suppliers who must keep pace with the growth at OEMs in the state and the Southeast will account for a significant percentage, he says.
“And we expect to see new projects from suppliers who will be able to make a strong business case for being present in the market, ” says Sewell. “As those companies make location decisions, we believe that Alabama’s record of success in supporting the auto industry’s growth is going to be a big advantage.”
Jessica Armstrong and Tyler Brown are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Armstrong is based in Florida and Brown in Huntsville.
Text By JESSICA ARMSTRONG // Photo by TYLER BROWN