A community not long ago making headlines for having one of the highest unemployment rates in the country believes it has found its niche—and the prosperity that comes with it. Anderson leaders say the city is now a hotbed of investment from foreign manufacturers, and it’s fueled a comeback; in the last decade, 15 foreign companies have built facilities in Madison County, creating 2,200 jobs and stabilizing the local economy. Auto parts manufacturer NTN Driveshaft Anderson, Inc. is the latest to pump millions into the area—revitalizing a sector that, just a decade ago, was desperate for redemption.

Anderson Mayor Thomas Broderick, Jr. says General Motors’ operations in Anderson employed 26,000 people at its peak, but the jobs started to leave in the 1980s, and “over a period of 20 years, it disappeared.” After “the final piece fell” in 2007, the recession dealt a second blow to the area’s already-crippled economy.

“At one point, I think we were up to a 21 percent unemployment rate, so it was pretty significant,” says Broderick. “We looked at ways to build upon our strengths and learn from past mistakes. [Anderson] immediately started to re-invent itself and continue on with innovation in our community.”

Anderson first tasted the sweet success of foreign investment in 2007 when Switzerland-based Nestle built a $920 million plant. It triggered a cascade of overseas companies coming to the city, representing nine countries. The region’s unemployment rate now hovers just slightly above the state’s rate.

Among the largest deals have been Japan-based Greenville Technologies Inc., Italy-based Sirmax North America Inc., and most recently, Japan-based NTN Driveshaft Anderson, Inc.

“We wanted to play a role in the rebirth of Anderson,” says Jim Riggs, president and chief executive officer of NTN Driveshaft, Inc. in Columbus. “We felt we could help Anderson rise up, and we wanted to be part of that. With NTN here, we thought we could help attract other businesses to Anderson.”

The Anderson facility is expected to create about 500 jobs. The operation will produce constant velocity joints for major automakers, which are part of the connection between a vehicle’s transmission and wheels. The facility is building its inventory now and will start shipping its product in April.

On the heels of the investment in Anderson, parent company NTN Corp. recently announced its joint venture, NTK Precision Axle Corp., will also build a more than $100 million manufacturing facility in the city.

While NTN Corp. considered other states and Hoosier locations, NTN Driveshaft Anderson President Shinji Hashimoto says Anderson offered the best package of incentives, and the city’s unemployment rate was higher than in Columbus, where the company’s largest North America plant is located.

“There’s just too much competition for people in [Columbus],” says Riggs. “Anderson has a base of people with manufacturing experience who would be very close to the location. We felt staffing this plant with people who are ready to come in and go to work would be much easier than at a different location.” 

Broderick says Anderson’s experienced work force is one of its top selling points; about 1,000 patents came out of GM’s operation, “so there are still a lot of bright people here.”

Economic leaders in the region say the city has transformed its identity; foreign investment now dominates new deals in the former GM stronghold.

“And we focus on that, quite frankly,” says Broderick. “We certainly don’t turn anyone away, but at the same time, I think we’ve found a niche here when it comes to these foreign companies. We’ve worked hard to make some relationships and trips overseas; we do that to cultivate those friendships, showcase ourselves and let these companies know Anderson is a good place to do business.”

Broderick says GM’s departure left many brownfield sites that were once “environmental disasters,” but are now open for business.

Broderick says GM built a unique work force in the region that “wanted to stick around” for new opportunities.

Riggs says the local work force is “tickled to death” to have new manufacturing opportunities in Anderson.

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