Four suppliers honored by Alabama automotive association

Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association recognizes these firms for their contributions to the industry

Dan Hill, chief operating officer of NRTC Automation. Photo by Joe De Sciose.

Alabama’s automotive industry is driving full speed ahead with companies looking to power steer the state’s economy to prosperity.

The Alabama Automotive Manufacturer’s Association (AAMA) announced its annual Supplier of the Year award winners in recognition of each company’s contribution to the state’s economy and excellence in its category. Formed in 2001, the AAMA’s mission is to promote continuous education, as well as growth of the automotive manufacturing industry in Alabama. Guided by six core values — excellence, integrity, collaboration, innovation, responsiveness and generosity — the AAMA provides a forum for interaction among the automotive entities in Alabama.

This year’s Supplier of the Year winners represent excellence in both manufacturing and service sectors of the automotive industry. In the large manufacturer category, Lear Corporation was the champion. First in small manufacturers was NRTC Automation. For service providers, Mind Your Culture and Gadsden Industrial Distributors both walked away winners.

NRTC Automation

Started in Canada, NRTC chose Alabama as its first U.S. branch, which opened in 2019. Chief Operating Officer Dan Hill was the first American employee of the company.  Hill says when the company was doing market research for its expansion to the States, the choice to do business in Alabama was an easy one.

“When we started doing research into some of the manufacturing goals we wanted to accomplish and some of the removals we were doing, our main customers for removals were heavily based if not in Alabama then the states adjoining Alabama,” Hill says. “So, we had some existing relationships here. The company had already been doing work with Magna Kamtek. We did the e-coat system for them when they built their new facility, and we’ve done a number of removals for Kamtek over the years. From an automotive perspective, Alabama has just blown up since Mercedes came to the state, so it just made sense.”

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The company offers many services to its clients, which helps to broaden its customer base.

“It’s really five business units is how we try to break it out,” Hill says. “You’ve got turn-key automation being one, parts manufacturing being another. Then we’ve got our equipment sales division and website sales. Then we’ve got the decommissioning, which is the removal of robots and equipment from places like Mercedes, and last but not least is our contract services, which we basically bring people into our plants, teach them on our equipment. It’s basically a junior apprenticeship-type scenario where they learn on our equipment and then we put them out in the field to our customer sites that need support.”

The company has undergone several evolutions over the years, starting with rubber recycling to small automation and robotic automation type projects. Now with additional U.S. locations in Detroit and South Carolina, Alabama remains a key component to the NRTC operations.

“We do more painting in Alabama and Canada than we do anywhere else as far as robot refurbishment, but the Alabama plant has its own paint lab, its own tooling, machine centers, its own assembly for fixtures, etc.,” Hill says. “A big part of what we’re doing in Alabama is actually building car parts, but we also offer turn-key automation as well. Each facility is capable of making automation lines themselves, but they are also capable of making the parts the automation lines would do.”

Gadsden Industrial Distributors

Tim Ponder, vice president of sales and marketing at Gadsden Industrial Distributors.

Founded in 1983, Gadsden Industrial Distributors (GID) is a full-line industrial supply house carrying a wide variety of products in its two locations in Alabama, as well as the company’s two locations in Mississippi. GID supports manufacturers and machine shops, as well as military and government customers.

Tim Ponder, vice president of sales and marketing, says the locally owned company works very closely with automotive manufacturers and their supply plants.

“Basically, we handle anything and everything you could need at a plant from safety glasses and gloves or whatever it might be,” Ponder says. “We also handle power transmissions; we sell motors and bearings and conveyors. We carry chemicals from degreasers to WD-40, pretty much any janitorial need. That’s kind of how the market is these days — if you’re not carrying anything and everything for a plant, you’re missing out.”

GID’s customer base is as wide and varied as its product offerings. Serving companies in industries such as aerospace, construction, plastics manufacturing and beyond, GID has no shortage of accounts on file.

“From a volume perspective, Anniston [Army] Depot is our number one buyer and customer,” Ponder says. “They buy a lot of unusual stuff from us. They frequently need parts for equipment from the ’60s. Our next biggest account would be Honda and the needs of its many facilities, and the third would be Caterpillar. So, lots of large accounts, but we also work with the local mom-and-pop shop to help keep them supplied.”

With many online retailers offering similar products as GID, it can be hard to stand out from the competition. Ponder says it’s no surprise to him why customers keep coming back.

“I think the thing that sets us apart from our competitors is that they are these gigantic companies with thousands upon thousands of individual products,” Ponder says. “But when you call them, you’re going to get someone on the telephone where if you don’t have a part number and know exactly what you need, they really can’t help you. That’s where our people step in, and we have an average tenure of 27 years. We have the expertise to provide that old-fashioned, good customer service. You don’t have to have a part number with us.”

Lear Corporation

For more than 100 years, Lear Corporation has taken a systematic approach to innovation that aligns market demands for intelligent and environmentally friendly technologies applied to smart manufacturing.

Lear believes that as cars and trucks grow more intelligent, so will the factories that produce them. The company prioritizes operational excellence and continuous operational improvement, and leveraging smart factory technologies in automation, additive manufacturing, as well as data and digitization.

With 253 facilities in 37 countries employing more than 160,000 people globally, Lear’s global impact brings an industry-leading perspective to Alabama’s automotive industry.

Mind Your Culture

Anke Jahn, founder and president of Mind Your Culture.

A company built 10 years ago, Mind Your Culture specializes in transformational programs that leverage the power of culture and shared purpose to bring out the best in people and an organization. Founder and President Anke Jahn knows the power of culture and different cultural perspectives and has made mindful practice of building her team with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Originally from East Germany during the Iron Curtain era, Jahn uses that unique experience to drive her culture-forward company.

“When I went from East to West Germany, I felt lost, and I couldn’t understand why I felt lost,” Jahn says. “We spoke the same language, we shared the same food, but I felt like I was on a different planet. I had no connection to other Germans, and that was really baffling to me. That’s when I realized we grew up in such a different system and different culture — and that culture is much deeper than food and language. It’s mindset; it’s attitude; it’s expectation — and they are very, very powerful.”

With no shortage of corporate training programs, Mind Your Culture has an uphill battle connecting with companies who are lobbied by many other professional development organizations. One thing Jahn says helps her team stand out from the rest is a different approach to corporate culture change.

“We don’t just provide training, but we also provide sustainable behavior change,” Jahn says. “What really makes us unique is we provide a shift in skillset and mindset that is needed for professional and personal growth. We use self-discovery learning and have a simple, values-based process that is easy to follow. We know that with hands-on learning and ongoing support is where real learning and transformation happens.”

A longtime member and now corporate sponsor of the AAMA, Jahn says being recognized with this award was a surprise and an honor.

“When we joined AAMA, we were truly impressed by their strong focus on supporting businesses to continuously improve and advance their organizations,” Jahn says. “What also continuously impresses me is the unwavering commitment to bring government entities such as the Department of Commerce, the school system and business community to align to grow Alabama’s economy. It’s just a really supportive, collaborative network and community in the business world that I have not seen anywhere else.”

Crystal Castle and Joe De Sciose are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Mobile and he in Birmingham.

This article appears in the March 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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