In Focus: German native Matthias Goetz plans to make Gadsden home

Matthias Goetz came to Gadsden to work for Fehrer, and he plans to stay

Matthias Goetz, general manager of Fehrer, stands in the company’s Gadsden plant. Photo by Joe De Sciose.

It is not uncommon for international companies to set up shop in Alabama and send executives and other workers to the state for a couple of years — then call them back.

In the case of Matthias Goetz at Fehrer, though, he’s not planning to leave, at least this time around.

Fehrer, a Tier I auto supplier to Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and other companies, came to Gadsden in 2011. Goetz came soon after, sent by the German company to help get the facility on its feet.

Goetz, a native of north Bavaria in Germany, returned to Germany briefly, but in 2012 he came back as operations manager.

“That’s when I met my wife,” he says. “She’s from Gadsden originally and worked at Fehrer at one point. That’s how we met.”

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They moved to South Carolina for seven years, with Goetz working for Fehrer and another company, but in 2020, he joined Fehrer again, and he asked to come back to Gadsden.

He’s now general manager of the facility, and he and his wife, Tanessa, are raising their daughter and Tanessa’s two sons. Goetz also has a grown son in Germany.

Fehrer, part of the Aunde Group, produces premium foam parts for car seats, supplying the foam for 100% of Mercedes-Benz’s output at its plant in Vance and 100% of the output at the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant. In addition, the company supplies parts for Tesla in Fremont, California, and BMW, through its sister plant in Duncan, South Carolina.

Fehrer employs 440 people in Etowah County, third behind only Koch Foods and Tyson Foods, and one of Goetz’s missions is to get his company more involved in the community and more well-known.

“We’ve been here 12 years now, and sometimes you drive down to the gas station down the road and you have a Fehrer shirt on, and they don’t know who Fehrer is,” Goetz says. “To me, that’s unacceptable.”

Fehrer doubled in size in 2021, and Goetz has opened up a dialogue with Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford that didn’t exist before.

“We met at his office, and then he came to our facility with his staff to see what we do and what our needs are,” Goetz says. “It was an open discussion about what the challenges are for manufacturing in Etowah County and in Gadsden specifically.”

Chief among those concerns for Fehrer is workforce development.

“We need to attract younger generations to work in manufacturing,” Goetz says. “That’s where we discussed partnerships with local schools, to be more proactive on that. We spoke generally about workforce development and us being more present in the community.”

Fehrer and its employees are involved in a number of charitable endeavors in Etowah County, including making donations for mothers in need and supplies for children, Goetz says.

Business is good at Fehrer, Goetz says, with orders “maxed out” until 2030. That includes beginning to provide parts for electric vehicles for Mercedes and for Volkswagen. The company plans to add a production line — and 70-90 jobs — next year.

For Fehrer, Gadsden is ideally located between Tuscaloosa and Chattanooga, where the company’s two major customers are based. And being in Etowah County probably helps with the workforce, according to Goetz.

“Being outside of Tuscaloosa or Chattanooga gives you a better advantage in the workforce because the competition isn’t right there,” he says.

Settling down with his new family in Gadsden has helped Goetz develop more ties to the Etowah County area.

“We had expats here from Germany who’d stay here for two years and go back,” he says. “There was no sustainability. They’d come here and then go back. They all had no interest in being involved in the community because they had no ties in the community. That’s changed with me.”

Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama and Joe De Sciose is a freelance contributor. Both are based in Birmingham.

This article appears in the April 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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