- By Matt Sanctis Staff Writer
Topre America Corp’s presence in Springfield began in December 2016 when the Japanese firm announced it would hire about 20 workers and invest $10 million to open a facility in the Champion City Business Park.
By this Spring, the auto part’s manufacturer’s investment had ballooned into a total investment of about $130 million, with plans to hire 300 workers supplying vehicle components to companies like Honda and Toyota. The firm is one of several Japanese companies that have boosted investment in Clark and Champaign Counties over the past several years, and local officials said the country’s economic contributions play a key role in the region’s economy.
Several other companies, including KTH Parts Industries Inc. in St. Paris and Yamada North America Inc. in South Charleston have invested millions as they’ve expanded to keep up with demand from automakers like Honda. It often goes unnoticed, but Japanese firms collectively have a significant economic impact on the region, including Clark and Champaign Counties, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield.
“Japan is right up there if you look at global investment in Ohio,” Hobbs said. “It’s important for us to never take it for granted.”
Six Japanese companies in Clark County employ slightly more than 1,200 jobs for the region, according to information from the Dayton Development Coalition. In Champaign County, Parker Trutec Industries Inc and KTH alone employ more than 1,000 workers.
Japanese firms have a significant impact across the 14-counties served by the Dayton Development Coalition, said Mitch Heaton, vice president of economic development for the DDC. Information from that agency shows 54 Japanese firms employ more than 16,700 workers in the Miami Valley, he said. For comparison, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the state’s largest single-site employer, provides jobs for about 27,000 workers throughout the Dayton region he said.
Economic development officials from Clark and Champaign Counties are planning a trip to Japan in November to develop closer ties with Japanese firms who have local investments. The proposal began in Clark County, but the Dayton Development Coalition is now organizing the trip and including representatives from across the Miami Valley.
“We want to send a strong message that our community continues to be ready for investment and hungry for it,” Hobbs said.
Japan is the state’s top foreign investor, employing more than 77,000 Ohioans, according to information from the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit. That agency provides support to Japanese companies and works to develop closer ties between Japan and entities in the Midwest.
The agency conducts a survey on Japanese direct investment in Ohio annually. The most recent results showed Japanese firms created 3,487 new jobs between 2016 and 2017 according to the agency.
Ties to the auto industry
Most, but not all of the Japanese firms in Clark and Champaign County produce parts or provide other services for Honda, in central Ohio. About 1,400 workers from Clark and Champaign counties work for the automaker, and Honda employs approximately 14,500 Ohioans overall.
The company has a deep footprint across the state. Honda’s first manufacturing facility opened in Marysville in 1982 and the 4 million square-foot facility is the company’s largest in Ohio. Workers there assemble the Honda Accord along with the Acura TLX and ILX. Honda also operates a 2.1 million square-foot site in East Liberty where workers assemble the Honda CR-V and Acura RDX, and an engine plant in Anna, Ohio that employs more than 2,800 workers. Honda manufactures its Acura NSX supercar at its Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville.
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Honda spent a record $32.4 billion for parts and materials from U.S. suppliers for its North America operations last year, including firms in Clark and Champaign Counties. Of that, company officials said about $10 billion was spent in Ohio with 173 suppliers.
That’s about $1.5 billion more than 2016, when the company spent just shy of $31 billion on those products and services, according to information from the company. Locally, KTH Parts Industries, Inc., Topre, Yamada North America, Inc., and Teikuro Corp. have ties to the auto industry, Hobbs said.
Parker Trutec, has offices in both Clark and Champaign Counties and provides heat treatment for Honda and other customers. Heat treating allows manufacturers to use lighter-weight steel to reduce the weight of vehicles and improve fuel efficiency.
Cascade makes attachments for fork and lift trucks while Coilplus, Inc. provides services for customers in industries ranging from appliances to construction.
Honda’s presence in central Ohio was a key reason Topre chose to develop its latest facility in Springfield, said Brad Pepper, vice president of Topre America. The company also supplies parts for Toyota, which has a significant presence in Kentucky, he said.
“It’s centrally located in a key position for us,” Pepper said.
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. Topre’s history stretches back for more than 80 years, but the company didn’t build its first U.S. facility in Alabama until about 2004, Pepper said. Since then though, the company has also established facilities in Mississippi and Tennessee along with its recent growth in Ohio.
While Topre was slow to boost its U.S. investment initially, part of the reason is because the company’s culture is to plan extensively before making a decision to ensure their projects are successful.
“Our growth has been very very rapid,” Pepper said.
A regional visit
Other local companies have also ramped up hiring and invested in their facilities, particularly as the auto industry has seen strong demand in the past few years.
KTH announced an expansion in 2016 that included between $23 million and $34.5 million in equipment and new construction. The company is one of the Champaign County’s largest employers and also invested more than $3.7 million to develop a research center in late 2015 in Plain City as automakers faced higher fuel economy demands and crash test standards.
In 2015, Yamada announced plans to add jobs as part of a $15.2 million expansion, the second major expansion at the Honda supplier in recent years. Parker Trutec also kicked off an $8 million expansion at its Urbana facility in 2015 to build a 57,000 square foot addition for a third production line and new trucking docks. In Springfield, that company had also invested about $13 million for a project that added 20,000 square feet to its Springfield plant at 4700 Gateway Drive. That project added about 15 new jobs.
Parker Trutec has a roughly 30-year history in Champaign County and 27 years in Springfield, said Joseph Gummel, president of Parker Trutec, Inc. The company first got a foothold in the U.S. by setting up an office in California, but quickly moved to the Midwest to provide services for Honda. The automaker was the company’s only customer at first, but added additional clients as the business slowly grew. He estimated the company now has about 350 workers in Ohio.
“The philosophy of a Japanese company is to contribute to society,” Gummel said. “We do that in a variety of ways.”
The DDC’s upcoming trip to Japan started when officials from Clark County traveled to Topre’s corporate headquarters to develop better relationships with that firm’s top officials, Hobbs said, The DDC soon became involved and started planning a larger visit that would allow economic development officials from across Southwest Ohio to visit companies that have a presence in their respective counties.
The goal isn’t necessarily to try to attract additional investment, although that’s possible, Hobbs said. It will allow local county leaders to explain how they’re working to address challenges that impact the companies, including issues like workforce development.
“With the job growth we’re having here in our community, we haven’t forgotten about their workforce needs,” Hobbs said.
Along with Hobbs, Amy Donahoe and Toni Overholser will represent Clark County on the trip. Donahoe is the director of hiring and employer services for the Chamber of Greater Springfield. Overholser is director of workforce and business solutions at Clark State Community College.
Although the goal is not specifically to attract new investment, it’s important to develop relationships with those firms because it can be critical when firms are making decisions for future growth, said Heaton, of the DDC.
“It’s a lot more about making an introduction and opening that door,” Heaton said.