By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
CULLMAN — Having picked up a major new contract earlier this year, the Cullman REHAU manufacturing plant is gearing up for a massive expansion that should create 200 jobs over the next two years.
Officials plan to add 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and are looking at construction options now for a new building at or near the current Industrial Drive site at the city Industrial Complex. Approximately $30 million in new equipment will be added immediately, not including additional equipment, a technology and technical center and investment for construction that could total over $100 million.
New injection molding equipment and fabrication devices will also be installed as part of the expansion, and the current paint line will be replaced with an environmentally safe water-borne system.
The new jobs will run the gamut from assembly workers to engineers and upper-to-mid-level managers.
The expansion is needed to accommodate a new long-term contract with Mercedes-Benz to develop and produce bumper assemblies for the C-Class and M-Class automobile lines.
Once the new line is in full swing, production will increase drastically from 90,000 bumpers-per-year to 540,000 bumpers-per-year.
REHAU representatives from the German office were in Cullman Tuesday to meet with local plant employees, and considering the rapid pace of the project, opted to make the announcement at a lunch with city officials.
“This contract win from Mercedes-Benz is significant not only for our Cullman plant in North America, but for REHAU as a global company, as we will be collaborating across several international regions to develop bumper solutions that can be used on vehicles in numerous countries,” REHAU Automotive CEO Niklas Braun said. “We contribute our success in securing this contract to our internal collaborative capabilities, as well as to a solid history of operational collaboration with Mercedes-Benz. This has been a valued customer relationship for us, and we look forward to the opportunities presented by our latest contract with the company.”
The Cullman plant will begin design and development work immediately, with the first round of production set for mid-2013. The first models to feature REHAU-produced parts will be the 2015 C-Class and M-Class vehicles.
“It’s really a long-term effort to win the contract, then a long-term supply agreement is the reward,” REHAU Automotive Chief Financial Officer Reiner Leifhelm said. “We have to produce and deliver every day, then on top of that, continue to grow.”
Leifhelm said the expansion represents a massive investment in the Cullman facility, made possible by everything from the workforce to area elected officials.
“It starts with the employees, and we have found good employees that are well-trained in the Cullman and Cullman County community, and surrounding communities, that are willing to work with an international network,” he said. “Our relationship with the city, economic development and the industrial development boards has created a climate where we could grow.”
Cullman Economic Development Director Peggy Smith noted the REHAU plant, which already employs approximately 500 people, was one of the first tier one automotive suppliers in Alabama.
“Cullman has always been proud of the fact that REHAU was the first supplier to Mercedes out of Alabama, which established Cullman as one of the first to attract a tier-one supplier,” she said. “We’d been watching announcements by Mercedes-Benz, and were very optimistic that growth would translate into an expansion for REHAU. We realize companies always have options, and can always choose another location, and we’re so pleased REHAU made this decision to expand here in Cullman.”
Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the announcement shows the community’s resiliency in the face of everything from the April 27, 2011 tornado to the recent Great Recession.
“Even through the past four years we’ve weathered the storm, and we keep moving forward with announcements like this,” he said. “REHAU is an outstanding company, and we’re so glad they’ve announced this $109 million expansion. It shows the trust REHAU has in this community and the workers in this community. This is great news for the city and the county.”
‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.