Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley surprised Cullman officials Thursday with a visit as part of his statewide economic recovery tour, though he got a pretty major surprise himself before strolling the manufacturing floor of Alabama Cullman Yutaka Technologies (ACYT).

While meeting with ACYT officials at the Cullman plant, a $5 million expansion expected to create at least 20 new jobs was announced for the auto parts manufacturer. A 60x480-foot expansion will be built at the ACYT plant, located at the intersection of Alabama Highway 157 and Alabama Highway  69.

ACYT opened in 2006 and was expected to top out at approximately 300 employees at full capacity. Once the new expansion takes place, the plant is expected to employ 420 people.

“Of course, this is the first I’ve heard about it, but I’m very excited to hear the plant will be expanding,” Bentley told The Times. “It’s a great plant that has been a great partner for Alabama.”

In a chat with Bentley, Yutaka representative Jim Willoby discussed how the company’s partnership with Cullman has evolved over the years.

“We’ve had good associates here, and the highways and infrastructure system have been really good,” Willoby said, noting how the company frequently ships parts to Honda plants across the state. “One of the challenges we’ve had is hiring in some specialty positions, and Wallace State has been working with us on that with some training programs.”

Before receiving the expansion news, Bentley caught up with local officials to talk about economic recovery in Cullman and what his office can do to help.

Cullman city council member Clint Hollingsworth, along with other county and city officials, met with Bentley and said they discussed some infrastructure upgrades and pending bridge repairs.

“It was really great having him come to town, and to have a chance to sit down with the governor in an informal setting,” Hollingsworth said. “He was able to get some input from us on what’s working and what’s not. He was really receptive to us asking questions and it was really informative.”

Bentley commended local officials for the job they’re doing, and noted the county’s extremely low 5.2 percent unemployment rate.

“This is a great delegation and the local, elected officials do a great job of industrial development,” he said. “That makes it easier to recruit jobs into this area. Some new infrastructure upgrades are going well, and I’m very proud of the cooperative spirit between local officials here and the state.”

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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