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Published: Thursday, 10/20/2005

Gov. Taft visits Daimler executives in Germany

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft visited top DaimlerChrysler AG executives in Germany yesterday to thank them for the ongoing $2.1 billion expansion at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant - and to take a few spins around the Mercedes-Benz test track.

"I'm pretty lucky to be alive," the governor joked during a telephone interview with The Blade while on his way from Stuttgart to London.

The governor is on a nine-day mission to Europe, making stops in France, Germany, and England to tout Ohio as a place to do business, buy goods from, and visit. Accompanying him are various company and public officials from northwest Ohio and elsewhere statewide, including Lee Springer, director of international business development for Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership.

Besides visiting Daimler yesterday, Mr. Taft met with officials from the Kuka Group, one of the automaker's key partners in the Toledo Jeep expansion. The German firm is building a $75 million factory next to the Jeep complex in North Toledo, where it will build bodies of two-door and four-door versions of the Jeep Wrangler's replacement starting next year.

Kuka is among 18 companies investing more than $500 million in Ohio in part to supply Toledo Jeep, according to the state. Two others beside Kuka, painter Haden International Group Inc. of Michigan and Hyundai Mobis of South Korea, will operate factories alongside Chrysler.

Another name the governor said he wants to add to the list is Faurecia Interior Systems USA Inc., which is considering Northwood for a $3.8 million, 95-job parts factory. While in France, the governor met with officials from its French parent, Faurecia Group.

"We feel good about it, but it's not a done deal," said Mr. Taft. The company also isconsidering a site in Michigan for the factory to make part of the interior for the Wrangler replacement's door.

While in Germany, the delegation met with officials from Volkswagen AG in hopes of getting the automaker to consider using Ohio-made parts in its vehicles, Mr. Taft said.

The governor said his first trade mission to Europe in 2002 produced $20 million in new investment.

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