Using a plant built on spec by Toledo’s port authority helped Dana launch production.
Faurecia is the latest auto supplier to open a plant at an old Willys-Overland site in Toledo, Ohio. If local authorities succeed in fostering an industrial resurgence there, other suppliers may follow.
The 110-acre Overland Industrial Park is part of approximately 450 acres that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority is redeveloping on speculation to spur manufacturing investment in Toledo, a city whose industrial base has declined in recent decades. The French interiors supplier will start instrument panel production next spring at an $11 million, 73,000-square-foot plant that will employ 100.
“Our DNA is manufacturing here,” Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority CEO Paul Toth told Automotive News. “The glass industry grew up in Toledo. But like many Midwestern cities, over the last two decades, we’ve lost a lot of that manufacturing.”
Toth said he watched manufacturing move overseas or to the southern U.S. or Mexico. But manufacturing is rebounding in the Midwest, he said, and Toledo is determined to capture new investment.
The port authority began its project buying and repurposing land on speculation in 2005, after a study was published about how northwest Ohio wasn’t focusing enough on using its older industrial sites.
Toth says the port authority is not limiting its focus to automotive investments, but it wanted to capitalize on the location as an automotive supply chain hub as it was in the past.
“One of our frustrations as a community is that we had lots of companies coming in looking for good-quality, modern, industrial buildings, and we simply don’t have them,” said Toth. “The majority of the companies looking for space here were automotive Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 suppliers. So we knew there was a market there, specifically around automotive.”
Snapping up sites
The results have been positive. Automotive interior trim and injection-molding supplier Detroit Manufacturing Systems, for which Faurecia is a minority owner, opened a 132,000-square-foot site at Overland Industrial Park last year.
Dana Inc. opened a 300,000-square-foot axle plant on the Overland site, also last year, in a building the port authority built on spec before Dana expressed an interest. Dana, Faurecia and Detroit Manufacturing Systems will supply to Jeep operations in Toledo.
Most of the redevelopment site is along the Maumee River that runs through Toledo. All but about 20 acres of the original 450 have been purchased or leased, Toth says. The port authority now is looking to finish building another industrial park on the south side of Toledo Express Airport and to acquire additional property around the city to develop.
Dana moves fast
Dana’s axle plant illustrates the idea of the port authority investing on spec.
In response to a stream of visitors who expressed interest in existing space, the redevelopment group began building a 100,000-square-foot site, with a willingness to be flexible about how it would be used.
Dana, headquartered in suburban Toledo, already had a considerable presence in the area when it began its search for a new axle plant. The company inquired about the building project but said it was too small. Dana needed 200,000 square feet more than the spec building. So the port authority added the space.
Dana spokesman Jeff Cole said the approach was perfect for Dana because it allowed the supplier to move faster to start production. The urban site also had intangible value for Dana, in letting the company invest in its historic hometown and give employees a chance to have a downtown experience in a resurging city.
“Toledo is experiencing a rebirth of sorts,” said Cole. “Downtown is growing. We had the glass industry and the auto industry, and both have seen a rebirth in Toledo. It’s got a scrappy heritage.”