Compared to the last time Gov. Robert Bentley was in Cullman, Friday afternoon must have seemed like the dawn breaking after a very dark night.
Tokyo-based automotive parts manufacturer Topre America announced a new, $109 million investment expected to create 250 new jobs in Cullman — and Bentley joined numerous state and local officials at a city hall press conference to confirm the news.
The last time the governor visited the area was the morning after the April 27 tornadoes flattened entire blocks of the city, and he said the Topre expansion will hopefully serve as one of many positives in the rebuilding process.
“I think it’s very uplifting, especially when people look up and see people losing their jobs,” Bentley said. “I mean, 250 jobs, the effect on the community will just be tremendous. For a community that size, those people live there and pay taxes there — it’s extremely significant.”
Bentley credited city and county officials for their work on the deal, noting virtually all projects begin and end in the local community.
“One thing I’ve realized is everything is local, and I want to thank the local economic development office, city council, county commission and everyone involved,” he said. “One of the greatest compliments an industry can give a community is to expand there. It’s a great partnership we have with your country and the Japanese people.”
Topre America opened in 2004, and since then the Cullman plant has expanded three times to meet growing demand by customers Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
But, Friday’s announcement will certainly be the largest.
The proposed investment is more than half of the company’s existing building and equipment investment of $200 million up to this point in Cullman.
“The Alabama workforce record of producing quality parts along with meeting delivery deadlines and cost control helped convince the board of directors that the investment in Cullman ensured the company would continue to meet customer demands,” Topre America Corporation President and CEO Hiroshi Chiba said. “I sincerely hope this investment of over 250 new employees will have a positive economic impact in the surrounding community.”
The 250 new jobs will bring the plant’s total employment to over 600, and the plant’s footprint will grow from 440,000-square feet to 620,000-square feet once the expansion is complete. Seven new stamping machines (ranging in size from 200-2,500 tons) will be installed, and a new die storage building will be constructed as part of the project.
Only two industrial announcements in Alabama last year exceeded the combination of 250 jobs and $109 million investment.
Construction is slated to begin immediately, with a tentative completion date of Summer 2012.
Peggy Smith, with the Cullman Economic Development Agency, noted Topre isn’t just bringing money and jobs — they’re also reinvesting civic pride and an expanded education tax base.
“This is a red letter day for Cullman, and Topre’s investment means more money for all of our education systems and more tax dollars for the city and county, which could not come at a better time after our recent storms,” she said. “From their first year in Cullman, Topre committed to become involved in our community, and they have done just that serving on the chamber of commerce and supporting community projects. Last year, Topre paid more than $365,000 to city and county education systems, and with this investment the income will be even greater.”
Newly appointed Alabama Development Office Director Greg Canfield — in his third week on the job — said he couldn’t have asked for a better situation to walk into in regards to the Cullman community.
“Today is an important example of teamwork, put forth by the community to foster investment and growth of the industries here,” he said. “I hope this is a continued sign of more to come, and it is very exciting.”
Speaking on behalf of the local legislative delegation, Alabama Sen. Paul Bussman said the expansion is just the latest dividend of a relationship stretching back for several years.
“Back in 2004, when the local plant opened, I remember the Chamber of Commerce held get-togethers to learn more about you all and your culture,” he said. “It’s important to have you not only in our community, but a part of our community.”
Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the expansion is a huge win for the city and county.
“It’s an honor to serve this community and make this announcement for Cullman County,” he said. “We meshed two cultures together and came out with a great friendship.”
Cullman County Commission Chairman James Graves used the announcement as a chance to remind state and federal officials about a lingering road project he believes could help Topre’s planned expansion run smoother.
The city, county, state and federal governments have partnered to share the cost of widening 1.4 miles of County Road 222, and the bridge over Interstate 65, to serve Topre and other industries in the area. But, officials believe a full interstate interchange is the best fix for the road.
“Out at [County Road] 222, that has to be wider for additional traffic, and we’re asking for your help in adding an interchange there for Interstate 65,” Graves said. “That’s a promise we made to Mr. Chiba and these folks a long time ago.”
‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.