- Matt Sanctis Staff Writer
A Japanese auto parts manufacturer will take over a prominent business park in Springfield and create 85 new jobs as part of a $55 million investment.
Topre America Corp. had announced plans in December to build a 20,000-square-foot facility at the Champion City Business Park and create 20 jobs. But the company has already acquired additional work supplying Honda and Toyota, and Monday’s announcement marks a significant expansion of its original plans.
The business park was once the home of a thriving Navistar plant that has long since closed and been torn down. Topre will bring new life to the site, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.
“This is a site that was the heart of this community,” he said. “To have that heart beating again will be a major symbolic reality for this community.”
Topre specializes in stamping and producing high-strength steel products, which are increasingly in demand as the auto industry shifts toward strong, lightweight materials that can withstand crashes but are also light enough to improve fuel efficiency.
The manufacturer has long-term plans for further expansion at the site, company leaders said Monday. The project is contingent on the approval of state and local incentives.
Details of the incentive package in Springfield haven’t been finalized, according to information from the city.
Company officials announced in December they would build a facility on the site to produce the front bulk head for the Acura MDX. In just a few months, the company has acquired additional work with Toyota, and will produce high-strength steel parts for the Toyota Rav4 crossover sports utility vehicle, said Brad Pepper, vice president for Topre America.
The original project for the MDX will move forward and could begin production as early as this September, Pepper said. The company’s plans announced Monday called for full production for the Rav4 to begin as early as the end of next year.
The average starting wage for the new jobs will be $19.50 per hour. Springfield competed with sites in New York, Mississippi and Tennessee for the project.
“People want hope,” Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Chamber of Greater Springfield said. “They want a job, and these are the kinds of jobs that are going to drive our community forward.”
Discussion about a possible expansion ramped up quickly in mid-February, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the chamber.
Hobbs described the company’s decision as a psychological victory for Clark County that could continue to provide stable manufacturing jobs for the foreseeable future. Topre, based in Japan, has a history of expanding at its other facilities in the U.S. A plant in Spartan, Tenn., grew from 12 employees to 150 workers, and the company is now building a stamping facility nearby that’s expected to employ an additional 100 workers there.
“It’s a continued momentum-builder for the community,” Hobbs said.
Based on past projects, Pepper said it’s possible an additional expansion could take place in three to five years as Topre acquires more work. The company is boosting its U.S. production capacity by about 50 percent, he said.
Topre’s global sales were about $400 million in 2004 and rose to $1.6 billion in global sales in 2016.
“We are a supplier that cares about the product we’re delivering to our customer,” Pepper said.
Employees hired to work at the new facility will likely be asked to temporarily relocate to Tennessee or Alabama for training before returning to work at the facility in Springfield, Pepper said. The company is expected to hire about 20 workers later this year to begin work on the Acura MDX product and will continue next year as Topre moves forward with the additional work for Toyota.
The company considered several other sites for the project, but settled on Springfield in part because local leaders worked harder to make the project a reality, Pepper said. Springfield is also located a relatively short distance from Honda factories in Indiana and Marysville, Ohio, and to a Toyota plant in Kentucky.
Some local officials said Monday’s announcement, along with similar projects at Navistar, are a sign Clark County is finally showing signs of stability.
“Things are starting to roll,” Clark County Commissioner Melanie Wilt. “We’re at a tipping point.”
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