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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Norwalk firm dedicated to quiet wants automakers to take notice

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Vehicle flooring insulation is formed into the finished shape at the Janesville-Sackner factory. Vehicle flooring insulation is formed into the finished shape at the Janesville-Sackner factory.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

NORWALK, Ohio - Scraps from blue jeans makers, virgin fibers, plastic, and other materials have helped build a $170 million automotive parts supplier headquartered in Huron County's seat.

If David Cataldi and other executives have their way, Janesville-Sackner Group will sell even more products that perform such tasks as lining vehicle roofs, floors, and trunks to help block out noise.

Janesville-Sackner, a unit of Milwaukee's privately held Jason Inc., has its headquarters in Norwalk. The larger, Janesville, side of the business concentrates on acoustical and thermal fiber insulation in Norwalk, elsewhere in North America, and Europe, and the Sackner side makes both decorative vehicle door trim and fiber products in its former hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich.

"The opportunities are huge on both sides," said Mr. Cataldi, a 27-year auto industry veteran who became the northwest Ohio business' president in March.

Touting itself as the world's largest manufacturer of nonwoven insulation products for the auto industry, the company has been holding technology shows for automakers and major parts suppliers, such as Johnson Controls Inc.

David Cataldi, who became president in March, says opportunities for his company's products are huge. David Cataldi, who became president in March, says opportunities for his company's products are huge.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Vinyl interior trim has become important as automakers try to differentiate vehicles, and parts molded from fiber can be lighter or cheaper than those from conventional materials, Mr. Cataldi said.

One growth possibility for the fiber business is the barrier behind a dashboard typically made from asphaltic material, which adds weight, cutting fuel efficiency. The company supplies that part to the Ford Expedition, for example, and is developing other products such as climate-control duct components.

"Janesville is a well-kept secret," Mr. Cataldi said. "If they don't know you, you're not going to get called."

About 350 of Janesville-Sackner's 1,200 employees are in Norwalk at the headquarters building, factories, and a warehouse, which underwent some job cuts after growth in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some of those employees are in research, development, and engineering.

Parts made in Norwalk include sound-deadening padding placed under carpeting in Ford F-150 pickups. The firm, which also has a joint venture in Mexico, sells finished products as well as rolls of fiber.

Local officials are pleased that Jason put Janesville-Sackner in Norwalk when the unit was formed four years ago, and they can brag about how many of the nation's cars and trucks are outfitted with parts or materials from the local business, said Bethany Dentler, director of the Norwalk Economic Development Corp.

"I like to say there's a little bit of Norwalk throughout the country," she said.

About 80 percent of Janesville-Sackner's business is from Big Three car-maker contracts, a concentration Mr. Cataldi hopes to dilute with more orders from Nissan Motor Co., other foreign automakers with plants in North America, and their suppliers, he said. BMW AG is a big customer in Europe, where the Ohio business unit has 300 employees at factories in Germany and the United Kingdom, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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