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Friday, December 26, 2014
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Published: Friday, 1/11/2013

Firm’s intent to open plant in Monroe fuels hopes

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

MONROE — As the person in charge of economic development for the city of Monroe, Dan Swallow will admit his job hasn’t been much fun the last several years. But at long last, that may be changing.

“There was a much slower period during the recession, but we’re definitely on the upswing now,” said Mr. Swallow, director of economic and community development for Monroe.

Mr. Swallow’s latest good news came this week with the announcement that South Korean auto-parts supplier Hanwha L&C Co. had bought a vacant manufacturing facility on East Front Street in Monroe with the intent of setting up a Midwest-based parts plant.

The plant is expected to hire 30 to 40 workers, Mr. Swallow said, although Hanwha has not provided a timetable on when it will start hiring or production.

“They are still in the process of reviewing the building and laying out where their equipment will go,” Mr. Swallow said.

Hanwha announced Monday it had bought the 106,000-square-foot building, formerly used by PreBesto Homes to make modular homes. The facility has been empty since 2007.

Both the state of Michigan and the city of Monroe will provide Hanwha with tax incentives, although both incentive packages have not been finalized. The company, which is headquartered in Seoul, had 2012 revenues of $25 billion.

It has more than 30,000 employees worldwide and operates two plants in the United States, in Opileka, Ala., and Shelby, N.C., along with a sales and development office in Fenton, Mich.

Hanwha’s U.S. plants make glass fiber, mat-reinforced thermoplastic products, such as rear bumper beams and auto underbody shields, and expanded polypropylene foam products, such as energy absorbers and tool cases.

Its primary customers are South Korean auto makers Hyundai and Kia. But Mr. Swallow said the company wants to make inroads with production facilities owned by Ford, GM, and Chrysler.

“They wanted a third production facility in the Midwest because they want to become an auto industry supplier in the Midwest,” he said. “Their primary customers are Hyundai and Kia but they certainly are looking to grow their business with the auto final assembly plants here in the region.”

While the Hanwha deal was the latest big announcement for the city of Monroe, it hasn’t been the only project involving the city’s economic development office.

Mr. Swallow said the office has been kept busy with the relocation of hometown furniture maker La-Z-Boy Inc., which has chosen to build a new headquarters in Monroe to replace its existing headquarters.

Also, the Gerdau Steel Mill in Monroe has been talking to city officials about a possible expansion.

Mr. Swallow said Zhongding USA Inc., a Chinese-owned distributor of rubber used by the auto industry is also looking at expanding its Monroe operations to add a technical center. Meanwhile, Fluid Equipment Development Co. (FEDCO), a firm that makes water pumps used for desalination, is talking about expanding.

“We’ve definitely seen growth, predominantly in the auto-related industries, but also with unique companies like FEDCO,” Mr. Swallow said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: chavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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