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GF Linamar sets sights on $1 billion in sales

MILLS RIVER — Touting their gleaming new plant as an industry-leading supplier of lightweight parts for cars and trucks, officials from GF Linamar snipped a ribbon on the factory to the cheers of 300 invited guests.

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A partnership of Linamar Corp., a Canadian-based specialist in machining for precision manufacturing, and the Swiss company Georg Fischer Automotive, a top casting manufacturer, the joint venture announced in February 2016 that it would build a $270 million aluminum die-casting plant at Ferncliff Industrial Park in Mills River.

Production is expected to start in June 2018 and the plant will eventually employ 350 people, with the company pledging an average salary of $47,700 among the operators, engineers, managers and executives. The county’s average annual wage is $34,256.
Jim Jarrell, president and chief operating officer of Linamar, thanked the Partnership for Economic Development and local and state government for “rolling out the red carpet.”
“In Linamar, we have an interesting teamwork story we talk about,” Jarrell said. “There are two stonecutters and they are asked what they do. The first stonecutter says ‘I cut the stone into block.’ The other stonecutter says, ‘I’m on a team building a cathedral,’ and then we ask everybody which team they want to be on. Well, obviously everybody wants to be on the team building a cathedral. We are not building a cathedral here. We are providing an integrative lightweight casting and machining solution that will be No. 1 in the world.”
The companies are poised to grow to $1 billion in sales by the year 2025 as a leading supplier lightweight parts for carmakers aggressively seeking a path to lighter vehicles with lower emissions and better fuel economy.
Local and state officials beamed at the day’s events, praising the international partnership that led to the plant opening and promising continued support for the job-creating newcomer to the industrial park best known as home of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
“We both value innovation, speed and productivity,” said Michael Edney, chairman of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners, referring to what he called shared values of GF Linamar and Henderson County people. “We both approach our work with entrepreneurial resiliency. We’re both fiscal conservatives yet we’re willing to make forward-looking, long-term investment towards prosperity. And we understand the true value and the great quality of life that brings us all here. Twenty years from now — once the celebration of this is forgotten — it will be these values that keep Henderson County and GF Linamar moving forward together as partners.”
Edney then gave way to state Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland by saying: “Welcome to America’s most beautiful industrial park.”
Copeland said GF Linamar exemplifies the kind of manufacturing operation that will help North Carolina continue on what has been a long road to recovery.
“It’s my job and the job of the governor and the Legislature to create an environment where you can execute that business plan and I can come back in a few years and you expand to a million square feet,” he said. “It’s a company like this one that’s going to make and create North Carolina’s future. …
“We lost more manufacturing jobs in this state than any other state in the country in the first three years of this century. We made many of them back by 2008 and then with the Great Recession we had tremendous loss of manufacturing jobs again.”
Several speakers announced during the event the departure of Andrew Tate, who has been the CEO of the Partnership for Economic Development since 2007. Tate, who has helped land a series of high-profile plant locations to Henderson County, is taking an economic development job in the Raleigh area, where he is from. Tate said he expects GF Linamar to show the corporate citizenship day in and day out that it exhibited with the well-orchestrated opening, complete with a bluegrass band, slick video, snacks and lunch
“You’re going to see them plugged into the community,” Tate said. “You’re going to see them hire our friends and neighbors, you’re going to see them engaged in what’s going on. the same thing that they’ve done here today. They’ve invited the community, they’ve invited all of their neighbors, they’ve invited the airport board. they focused almost exclusively the last two years on building the facility and selling the facility’s capacity. Now you’re going to see them turn the corner and have a big employment impact in the community.”
Linda Hasenfratz, Linamar’s CEO, recalled a casual conservation some six years ago that planted the seed for the joint venture.
“We started talking about Linamar, Georg Fisher Automotive and how strong we were in machining how strong Georg Fisher was in casting and we said, ‘You know, we should do more together.’” she said. “I’m just so thrilled to see it all come together today at this official opening.”
She, too, praised the industry recruiters and the state for offering incentives and guiding the joint venture partners to the industrial park here.
“We had a lot of options and it was a tough choice but I have to say that the strong support of our local government, our state government here in North Carolina was absolutely instrumental in us making this decision,” she said.
“We’re excited about this joint venture because together Georg Fisher Automotive and Linamar are working together to design and manufacture products in this facility that take significant weight out of the vehicles that we are producing for. Lightweight products are absolutely the key to lightweight vehicles in the future, driving lower emissions and better fuel economy.”

Last month GF Linamar announced that it had landed its first big contract for lightweight components — the sale of parts for a new pickup truck worth $300 million over five years and the factory will capitalize on the industry trend toward lighter vehicles stingy on fuel. Displays in the plant lobby show the company making a wide variety of parts for the engine compartment and body of cars and trucks — rear door frames for Daimler, engine blocks for Ford, inner door frames for Fiat/Maserati, shock towers for Audi, battery housings for BMW and set frames for Mercedes-Benz.
“The market for lightweight solutions in North America is growing very promising,” said GF Automotive President Josef Edbauer. “We already reached a high utilization of this facility’s capacity for the next year. Combining the casting know-how of GF Automotive with the machining know-how of Linamar brings a great advantage for all of our customers.”