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April 14, 2014

‘The present and the future’: REHAU opens expansion, breaks ground on research center

CULLMAN — It seems one huge announcement just wasn’t enough for REHAU on Monday.

In addition to officially opening the plant’s new $115 million expansion, the German automobile component manufacturer also broke ground on a new high-tech research center that will bring rare, highly-skilled jobs to the region.

The newly-opened manufacturing expansion created 250 new jobs at the manufacturing operation, largely led by a new contract with Mercedes-Benz to produce components for the several new models. Within the next two years, the expanded contract is expected to create an additional 160 jobs.

REHAU is a tier-one supplier for Mercedes-Benz, and in addition to the myriad other polymer products produced by the company, the Cullman location also manufactures bumper assemblies for Mercedes’ C-Class and M-Class vehicle lines.

“The growth of our business with Mercedes-Benz is significant for both our Cullman, Ala. plant and for REHAU as a global company. Our teams work across international regions to develop bumper solutions that can be used on vehicles in numerous countries,” REHAU Automotive Executive Board CFO Reiner Leifhelm said. “We have a sold history of collaboration with Mercedes-Benz, who has been our valued customer for many years. We look forward to our continuing relationship and the additional opportunities presented by our latest contract with the company.”

The Cullman branch of REHAU has grown into one of the auto part manufacturer’s largest locations outside of Germany over the past 20 years, and with the manufacturing expansion and new technical center, the growth should maintain the local plant’s position as a key component of the company’s global strategy.

“REHAU has already changed the landscape and lifestyles for many Cullmanites and paved the way for more automobile suppliers,” Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Peggy Smith said.

The technical center, which will be used to develop and refine production processes, is the first ever built outside of REHAU’s native Germany. Similar to a research and development lab, the center will focus on injection molding, paint, fabrication and supply chain processes. The company plans to specifically use this new space to conduct automotive component and system design initiatives that will be implemented in Cullman and eventually at plants across the globe.

“In addition to producing our innovations here in Cullman, we’ll also be furthering our expertise with the research center,” REHAU plant manager Albert Von Pelser said. “Historically, much of that type of work was done in Germany, and now we’re bringing it to Cullman. This is the culmination of many years of hard work.”

Joachim Hofmann, with Mercedes-Benz US International, pointed to the history of the company’s relationship with REHAU — noting it was the first tier-one supplier to come to Alabama to support the company’s Tuscaloosa County manufacturing plant.

“They were the first, and now 15 percent of Mercedes-Benz auto sales can be traced back to Alabama,” Hofmann said, to applause from those in attendance. “REHAU has been a key part of that success.”

Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield noted the event was likely a first for an Alabama industry, hosting both a ribbon cutting and groundbreaking on the same day.

“REHAU is an important part of the fabric of the state of Alabama, and that’s as much about the past as it is the present and the future,” he said. “This technical center represents REHAU’s commitment and the state’s strategy all coming together to support the growth of the auto industry in Alabama.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) noted the expansion and new research center shows the strength and versatility of the automobile industry in Alabama.

“REHAU’s continued investment in Cullman is an important and positive contribution to the local economy,” he said. “It is a great example of how, more and more, automotive industry jobs that have traditionally been overseas are being developed domestically, particularly in Cullman.”

‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.

 

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