02/27/04 — Wayne has 3 auto industries

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Wayne has 3 auto industries

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on February 27, 2004 1:58 PM

While the farming and government sectors of the Wayne County economy often get the most attention, there are three large car parts manufacturers here that have helped alleviate the economic downturn.

The three companies -- Cooper-Standard Automotive, Uchiyama America and Goerlich's -- have continued to hire new employees and in some cases expanded their plants even while other manufacturers were facing layoffs. All three plants are profiled in today's Focus sections J and K.

The annual Focus edition also has sections on agriculture, the military, nonprofit groups, government, education, the arts and health -- giving readers an overview of the county's progress over the last year and a preview of things to come.

Cooper-Standard Automotive in Goldsboro hired around 270 employees in a five-month period last year after it invested over $5 million to upgrade equipment. It now employs over 800 full-time workers and continues to be the largest vehicle seal supplier in the automotive industry.

It manufactures rubber seals for car doors and windows and ships them to Ford plants in Norfolk, Va.; Kansas City, Mo., and Dearborn, Mich. It supplies seals for all the F-150 pickup trucks manufactured, or about 800,000 vehicles a year, said Jim Wall, personnel manager. Its two newest contracts are the 2004 Ford F-150 pickup truck and the 2004 Chevrolet Colorado pickup.

It also makes seals for Chrysler, General Motors, Toyota, Isuzu, other major automobile manufacturers and for models that are no longer made.

Bill Pate, manager of the Employment Security Commission in Goldsboro, said that Cooper-Standard and others have helped hold things together during struggling economic times and have given people who were laid off the opportunity to find new employment and use their skills.

Cooper-Standard's employees were hired from May through September in groups of about 25 and a majority came through the ESC, said Wall. The others were through employee referrals. It usually takes a couple of weeks to go through the screening process, interviews and orientations before they can begin working, he added.

Uchiyama America Inc. in Goldsboro continues to expand and hire more employees.

Dave Parsons, personnel manager, said that by 2006 the company will have brand new highly robotic equipment that is being developed in Japan. It will take raw material and make a finished product. The company plans to build another building on the same property, which will double the size of the current plant.

A recent 30,000-square-foot expansion to the back corner of the building was completed in November and is being used for a storage area for raw materials.

Uchiyama has around 220 employees, and that number could increase by 20 or 40 due to a rapid expansion process. It will be one of only two manufacturers in the country that can produce automotive seals that are required for new vehicle models.

At first it was strictly a gasket manufacturing company, but advancements in electronics have enabled the plant to make hub and bearing seals for 80 to 90 percent of the vehicles on the road today.

The company is producing between 80,000 to 100,000 gaskets per day and between 300,000 to 500,000 seals per day. They are shipped to Nissan and Toyota manufacturers all over North America, Canada and some to Mexico. They are also sent to bearing suppliers in the northern United States and Canada.

Goerlich's Inc. has not added employees recently to its current 300, but it still continues to produce a high volume of automobile parts and is one of the world's largest producers of after-market exhaust products.

Its campus encompasses over 800,000 square feet and is on 100 acres. It uses millions of pounds of steel per year in manufacturing over 9,000 different parts, which include mufflers, pipes and catalytic converter components.

Joanna Thompson, president of the Wayne County Economic Development Commission, said she is always looking for prospective companies, especially those in the automobile industry, to relocate to the county.

The commission is currently working with a prospect in the automobile industry, she said, but could not reveal its name.

Eastern North Carolina is really overdue for an automobile assembly plant, especially when many of the key manufacturers are here. The area also has the land available that is required for a plant and has an experienced and qualified workforce, added Ms. Thompson.

She said the fact that automobile manufacturing plants are continuing to grow in Wayne County shows that the area has the qualified workforce to support the automobile industry. It is just a matter of time before the state is a contender for an automobile assembly plant, she added.