Seven Japanese companies in Jackson County employ more than 3,000 people.

A French-owned company in Seymour has nearly 1,700 employees, and a Belgian-owned facility’s employment tops 500.

Add those numbers up, and that’s more than 5,200 people employed in Jackson County by foreign-owned companies.

So how vital is that foreign investment to the local economy?

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“Absolutely critical,” said Jim Plump, executive director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. “I wouldn’t want to see what Jackson County would look like without that.”

Foreign direct investment is on the rise not only in the county but across the state. An Indiana University Kelley School of Business report shows more than 145,000 Hoosiers work at a business with at least a 50 percent foreign stake.

From 2011 to 2013, there were 129 foreign direct investment announcements with an expected value of more than $5 billion in Indiana, according to the IU report. That anticipated dollar-value places Indiana first among Midwestern states.

More than 75 percent of the investment announcements were manufacturing-related, compared with 41 percent nationally.

The investments were projected to create nearly 13,700 jobs, including more than 7,000 in the automobile and components industries. Japanese companies account for more than 40 percent of those jobs, which is nearly quadruple the national average.

Plump said that goes back to the early 1980s when Gov. Robert Orr and Lt. Gov. John Mutz put an emphasis on attracting Japanese investments in Indiana. They established an office in Japan and promoted the state as a good place to establish manufacturing operations. That is maintained today.

“Once you establish that, and once you begin having some success with the attraction of some Japanese companies specifically, then all of a sudden, more Japanese companies will come,” Plump said.

When one company establishes here, it needs to have a supply base, creating a snowball effect.

“Once you have that first or second or third success, then all of a sudden, you’re on the radar screen as something good is going on here because we have these companies that have located here,” he said.

Plump said that, in a 10-county region of south-central Indiana, more than 50 Japanese companies employ more than 16,000 people.

Among those companies is Aisin Drivetrain Inc. in Crothersville. Founded in 1996, the company manufactures products for customers in the automotive and heavy equipment industries, including Toyota, Lexus and Chrysler.

When Scott Turpin became president of Aisin Drivetrain, there were 40 employees. Today, there are more than 300.

“The community is very business friendly,” Turpin said. “We’ve always had a very good relationship with this area, with Jackson County. Jim Plump and his group, JCIDC, have been very instrumental in helping that relationship. They make it really easy for us to want to invest in this area.”

Aisin Drivetrain’s addition of products over the years has helped enlarge its workforce.

“It takes corporate desire to grow into an area and expand in an area,” Turpin said. “We’ve seen good growth with our customers. So we’ve always tried to be there to support those customers and be an irreplaceable partner for them.”

Aisin also has a manufacturing facility and North American headquarters in Seymour, with more than 1,700 employees.

Turpin said Aisin has a dedicated workforce, and employees are offered opportunities for growth.

“That business growth has afforded a lot of opportunities for individuals to come up in some cases from the shop floor all the way up to management positions,” he said.

Plump said it’s good to see that foreign companies have invested not only in the county but the state. Years ago, he said, Japanese companies invested on the West Coast because it was easy and convenient, and European companies invested on the East Coast for the same reasons.

“Once these companies started manufacturing and producing product, it’s all about getting the product to the consumer,” he said. “You start drawing 500-mile radiuses … and you pick up a lot of water, and you’re not seeing a whole lot of product.”

So those companies started moving toward the Midwest and realized they could hit a lot of the U.S. population, Plump said.

That helped the Hoosier state land automobile assembly plants, including Toyota in Princeton, Subaru in Lafayette and Honda in Greensburg. Then those companies needed suppliers, so that started more manufacturing operations.

Plump said Jackson County and the region have been fortunate to attract companies that continue to grow. And maintaining a strong workforce is key, he said.

“We’ve got to be in a position to supply these companies with a workforce that can continue to make profit because businesses are in business to make money,” he said. “When they cease making money is when they cease being in business.”

Since 1998, there has been a workforce partnership in the county. In recent years, the Jackson County Education Coalition was put in place, and the Jackson County Education Center was established. The education center has given local people a chance to further their education, and companies have used the facility for training employees.

“We’re seeing so much emphasis here in Jackson County, and really all over the state, in making sure that the next generation of workers is trained and can become productive workers within these industries,” Plump said. “Whether it’s U.S. domestic or whether it’s international, it’s doesn’t matter. It’s all the same.”

At a glance

Foreign-based companies in Jackson County

Company;Location;Base;Employees

Aisin Chemical Indiana LLC;Crothersville;Japan;68

Aisin Drivetrain Inc.;Crothersville;Japan;296*

Aisin Holdings of America Inc.;Seymour;Japan;NA

Aisin USA Manufacturing Inc.;Seymour;Japan;1,732*

Cummins Komatsu Engine Co.;Seymour;Japan;37

Kremers Urban Pharmaceuticals;Seymour;Belgium;525*

O&k American Corp.;Seymour;Japan;25

Seymour Tubing Inc.;Seymour;Japan;467*

Valeo Lighting Systems;Seymour;France;1,659*

*Updated through first quarter of 2014

Pull Quote

“Once you have that first or second or third success, then all of a sudden, you’re on the radar screen as something good is going on here because we have these companies that have located here.”

Jim Plump, executive director of Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., on attracting foreign investment

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.