The accelerated construction of MöllerTech’s $46.3 million Bibb County auto parts plant illustrates the new wave of activity propelled by the Mercedes-Benz plant’s $1.3 billion expansion less than 6 miles away in Tuscaloosa County.
MöllerTech executives were joined Tuesday by local, state and economic development officials for a symbolic groundbreaking. It was clear that work on the 20-acre site in the Scott G. Davis Industrial Park near Woodstock had started days ago to prepare for the 150,000-square-foot plant.
All of this is just three weeks after MöllerTech announced plans for the plant, which will create 222 jobs.
Steve Jordan, North American CEO for MöllerTech, said plans are to finish construction by March 2017 with equipment installed soon after and workers in place to begin production when the Mercedes expansion is complete in 2018.
“We will be moving very, very quickly and it won’t be long before we are making parts for Mercedes-Benz,” he said.
The plant will initially produce plastic injection molding interior parts for the next generation of Mercedes SUVs.
Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said teamwork in the state makes it possible to support companies like MöllerTech on a fast track.
“We have done everything that we can to help them get on the site, get their permits quickly in an expedited fashion so that they can go ahead and break ground and begin this process to get their 150,000-square-foot building up and running and begin to hire 222 employees from the state of Alabama – and particularly from Bibb County,” he said.
In addition to Jordan, MöllerTech officials at the groundbreaking included Holger Schmidt, CEO of MöllerTech International, and Gunther Schmidt, CEO of MöllerGroup.
Holger Schmidt said Bibb County was able to beat out sites in Georgia and Tennessee as well as other parts of Alabama.
“The decision at the end was very, very easy to come here,” he said.
Another sign of how quickly MöllerTech is moving was the presence of MöllerTech’s human resources director at the groundbreaking. She plans to meet this week with officials at AIDT, the state’s award-winning workforce training program, to put together the hiring and training plans to have the workers ready when the plant is complete.
Bibb County Commissioner Ricky Hubbard said those jobs are what his county has wanted to win for years.
“That’s been the overall goal since day one – to give the citizens the opportunity to work at home instead of having to travel 40, 50 or 60 miles to get a good job,” Hubbard said, noting that Bibb County is part of the Birmingham metro area due in large part to the number of residents who commute into the city for work.
“We’re on the road to making that happen,” he said. “This is 200 jobs here but we expect more to come.”
Canfield said the Mercedes expansion, coupled with the growth of the automotive industry in the state and promotion efforts by the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, have created a new wave of announcements by small suppliers.
While Alabama has built a strong base of Tier 1 suppliers – those that directly supply parts to the parent plant or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) – the state has room to grow when it comes to lower-tier suppliers that supply higher-tier suppliers.
“We expect to see continued growth in the Tier 2, Tier 3 and probably the Tier 4 automotive line in terms of the supply chain development,” Canfield said. “We need to make sure that we’ve got a mature underpinning to support the OEMs that are here and that really means targeting those Tier 2, 3 and 4 suppliers. I really think that that’s where the biggest part of our growth is going to come from.”
For Bibb County, laying the groundwork with the development of the industrial park, which was initiated by businessman Davis before his death and completed by members of his family, is paying off.
“He’s smiling down on us today,” Hubbard said of Davis. “Scott had a good plan. He really looked into the future.”
Landing MöllerTech proved to the commissioners that they belong in the economic development game, he said.
“It’s been a learning experience because we went through several opportunities. We faltered along the way because we really didn’t know what the next step was,” Hubbard said. “I think this has been a great learning experience. We were able to land this company and I think it gave us some direction about how to go about doing it the next time.”