Driven by CAR

A county economic development endeavor should provide a foothold in the automotive industry, leading county economic development representative says who is inspired after revealing they already have two leads for possible development here.

The Auglaize County commissioners recently provided help spending $5,000 for membership to the  Center for Automotive Research (CAR) and another $1,850 for two representatives to attend a recent annual seminar held by the organization.

In approving the funding, commissioners said they felt it was in the best interest of all county municipalities, with the membership and seminar providing a forum for the Auglaize County Economic Development Coalition Board to represent all communities within the county.

“It was something presented to us,” Commissioner Doug Spencer said of the decision to grant the funding. “Automotive manufacturing and automotive suppliers fit our market. They are trying to put Auglaize County on the map with any new business that could come our way.”

Wapakoneta Area Economic Development Council Executive Director Greg Myers, who is helping lead the charge countywide to bring automotive manufacturers and suppliers here, described CAR, which focuses on midwestern states and Ontario, as one of the premier automotive groups in the world.

“It’s a very prudent investment and one that none of the communities would have been able to afford on their own,” Myers said.

He also said while the automotive industry looks promising, it’s not the only route they are pursuing for economic development in Auglaize County. Two others he mentioned are plastics and advanced manufacturing.

Through their membership with CAR, Myers expects the county to gain valuable information from research conducted by the organization, as well as professional development and networking with decision-makers in the automotive and supplier industries as efforts are made to locate such a production facility in Auglaize County, and the potential to network with a branch of CAR which includes other counties and cities.

“All major domestic and international companies belong,” Myers said of CAR’s membership.

He said more than 900 people were in attendance at the annual seminar held recently in Traverse City, Mich.

“It was an exciting opportunity to learn about the auto industry and to break out in individual and special sessions, and attend social events and interact,” Myers said. “We came back from the meeting with two leads from companies interested in learning more about Auglaize County and we planted a seed in lots of people.”

One of the leads is from a domestic car manufacturer and a second is from a German firm.

Also in future plans for the county’s economic development leaders is a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., to sit down with the CAR staff and discuss research data.

“It should be very helpful in who we should approach, who is most likely to expand,” Myers said.

The county’s CAR membership extends through July of 2013, at which point it would need to be renewed if it were to be continued.

“It’s like any investment, you get out of it what you put in it,” Myers said. “We’re going to stay as involved and on top of it as we can.”

In specifically addressing why the automotive industry, he said it’s where the region’s tradition lies.

“In the Midwest, we’ve been making automotives for quite some time,” Myers said. “The supply chain is very strong. I think that’s our strength.”

He said Auglaize County also is located in a region known as the “sweet spot” in the automobile manufacturing industry, as it is located in the center of activity, making it a good place for companies to consider. Adding to the appeal is the CSX rail capacity.

“The automotive industry is actually leading the recovery this time with 16 million automobiles to be manufactured in the U.S. next year,” Myers said. “It’s expected to get up to where it used to be.”

With the average age of a motor vehicle in the U.S. being 11 years old, Myers said people at some point will have to buy new vehicles.

“That can’t go on forever and sales projections are good,” Myers said.

Due to all of the plant closures and shutdowns, Myers said to keep up with the business demand, capital investments will have to be made.

“It’s a good time now to get in front of the industry as it expands,” Myers said.