KTH begins $29 million expansion project

Honda supplier could add about 90 jobs.Company is among Champaign County’s top employers.

KTH Parts Industries, one of Champaign County’s largest employers, is beginning work on a roughly $29 million expansion that could add as many as 90 full-time jobs and more than 40,000 square feet to the plant.

Company officials said the investment will set the company on a stable path for the next few decades as both manufacturing and the auto industry have shown signs of recovery after the Great Recession.

KTH, which supplies auto body frame assemblies for Honda, had 871 full-time employees in August.

That figure could rise to as many as 961 full-time employees by December, although company officials said some of those include highly skilled positions that are difficult to fill. If part-time and temporary employees are included, that figure could rise to 1,130 workers at the facility by the end of the year.

“We’re constantly looking at what our customers’ plans are and anticipating opportunities we’ll need to stay competitive,” said Art Liming, senior vice president and plant manager for KTH.

The company’s expansion will include space for more storage, training and locker rooms, a trailer yard expansion and space for a 3,000-ton servo press designed to produce strong but lightweight auto parts as standards increase to improve gas mileage and crash test ratings.

The company is also working with Champaign County and the Ohio Department of Transportation to add parking and create a north exit from the facility for employees. While some of the projects are already underway, others, including the addition of the 3,000-ton press, will not be completed until 2015.

KTH’s expansion helps solidify the company’s footprint in Champaign County and should benefit the county as a whole, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for Champaign County.

“As we know, when people are employed and have stable income, there’s more spending,” Bailey said. “It just snowballs.”

The company’s biggest investment is in the new press, which costs an estimated $18 million, according to information from the company. Like other auto manufacturers, Honda vehicles are facing higher gas mileage standards and need lighter parts that are still strong enough to provide support and stability for the vehicle. The new press will be needed to help produce those types of parts.

“They’re employing higher-strength steel that makes it harder to shape with our older presses,” Liming said.

KTH is also investing $6.7 million in an automated storage retrieval system to help store and quickly ship auto parts, and $3.8 million for a 32,000-square foot expansion for stamping and storage on the east side of the facility. KTH is investing as much as $420,000 for conference rooms and locker rooms as the company grows, and spending more than $230,000 to expand its trailer yard. The trailer yard receives and sends out as many as 300 semi-trailers every 24 hours, said Chris Millice, assistant vice president for the company.

“With more manpower we need to enlarge the locker rooms, which is a good thing,” Liming said.

Most of the work could be completed by the end of this year, but the automated storage retrieval system will be complete next August and the new press will not be in place until May 2015.

Both manufacturing and the auto industry suffered in 2008, but Millice said people who put off purchasing cars are starting to replace older vehicles as the economy rebounds. Honda has been increasing its investment in the state, including an announcement earlier this year that it would invest $70 million in Ohio and build a new high-end sports car in Marysville.

“Their success will allow us to enjoy our success,” Millice said.

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