Ground will be broken next month on a $115 million manufacturing facility that will provide 300 jobs to Tennessee Valley workers.
Regional officials on Thursday announced BOCAR, a Tier-1 automotive supplier, open an operation in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County. The site is on the north side of Bibb Garrett Road, directly across from the Southpoint Industrial Park and adjacent to Interstate 65.
Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2018, and production should begin two years later.
BOCAR manufactures aluminum die-cast automotive parts like engine block heads, valve covers and timing chain covers. It has existing facilities in the United States, Germany, Mexico and Japan.
Its parts are used by Nissan, Ford, General Motors and Toyota.
Gerd Dressler, CFO of BOCAR Group, said the company's customers had requested an additional manufacturing facility in the U.S. and the company had looked at more than 40 sites.
“In the end, we were convinced Huntsville was the place for us,” he said. “The number one asset is the people of this fine area. … It's our intention to be a member of this community. We want to work and grow together with all of you.”
The initial project agreement was for about 305 jobs, but Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough believes the company could hire as many as 500 workers over time.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle praised BOCAR as one of the world's most “highly regarded” automotive suppliers.
“It's highly praised for its attention to quality and excellence,” he said. “That's what makes them a great partner.”
Building a workforce
Tom Sisk, superintendent of Limestone County Schools, said the announcement means he'll have to boost his system's career tech efforts to ready students for BOCAR's high-tech manufacturing jobs. He plans to ask local legislators to consider helping purchase the machines needed to train students.
“We'll have to expand our precision machining program to include more work in stamping and tool and die making,” he said. “That equipment is expensive, and we're going to need some initial investment. But each time the state has invested in our career technical education program, it's gotten a tenfold return on investment.”
Sisk plans to meet with BOCAR's operations manager next week to discuss what type of machines they would most like to see students trained on.
“It will take me about a year and a half to two years to ramp up to the point where we're producing the kind of workforce (BOCAR) needs,” he said.
Tom Hill, president of the Limestone County Economic Development Association, said his group has been working closely with the local school systems to ensure job-ready students are being produced for companies interested in North Alabama. Those efforts have been fruitful as the Limestone County Career Technical Center's enrollment has boomed over the past four years to more than 1,000 students enrolled.
“We're trying to get people to learn a skill and have that to pursue a career,” he said. “These will not be low-skilled jobs. BOCAR will be a high-skilled plant.”
Location, location, location
Dressler said BOCAR was attracted to the region's workforce, but officials said location also played a role in the company's decision to open a facility here. Battle referred to Huntsville as the “belt buckle” of the southeastern automotive corridor.
Tom Hill, president of the Limestone County Economic Development Association, said Limestone County is in a strategic sweet spot in relation to major car manufacturers in Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama.
“Transportation costs are a major factor, and this company produces aluminum parts and will have to ship them,” he said. “We're centrally located, so it's a good position (for BOCAR). It makes other companies look at us and ask what we have. We have a good story to tell.”
Incentives and partnerships
Luring the company to Huntsville didn't happen without collaboration between the state, city of Huntsville, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Limestone, Madison and Morgan counties. Battle called it a team effort, but Yarbrough said Battle deserves the lion's share of the credit.
“The leader of the team is Tommy Battle,” he said.
As with previous companies, BOCAR also benefited from a number of attractive incentives. Both the city of Huntsville and Limestone County agreed to provide $400,000 each. Payments to BOCAR will be contingent on the company hitting predetermined construction and employment targets.
Yarbrough explained Limestone County will really contribute just $300,000 to the project because of a separate $100,000 deal worked out with the Limestone County Economic Development Association. For every $100,000 the commission provides to BOCAR, the LCEDA will reimburse the county $25,000. The Limestone County Commission is expected to take up both agreements at Monday's regularly scheduled commission meeting.
In addition to Huntsville's $400,000 in incentives, which the City Council was set to approve Thursday, the city will also pay to run sewer lines to the facility. On Friday, Huntsville's development board is also set to vote on a 10-year abatement of non-educational property taxes.
Athens Utilities will provide electrical service to the facility. Electric Department Manager Blair Davis said Athens Utilities can provide the needed load through its existing substations. However, if the company expands the facility, Athens Utilities will construct a substation to serve the site.
"Athens Utilities is committed to being a partner with Huntsville and Limestone County to support growth in our service area, because it benefits the region with jobs, a stable workforce, and growing tax base," Athens Grant Coordinator/Communications Specialist Holly Hollman, who attended the announcement on behalf of Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks.