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Automotive parts manufacturer Bharat Forge America’s decision to build a $170-million aluminum forging and machining operation in Sanford promises to do more than create 460 new manufacturing jobs in Lee County.
“This also amounts to North Carolina raising and staking a flag within the industrial community in India, where we’re already known for IT and biotech,” said Colin Kiser, international business development manager with the EDPNC.
Bharat Forge, part of the global India-based Kalyani Group of companies, is “truly leading the advanced manufacturing revolution in India,” Kiser said. “They are very well known, especially within the automotive-facing industry, and that will help make North Carolina more competitive for similar projects from India and elsewhere.”
Kiser and EDPNC senior business recruitment manager Melissa Smith coordinated the team of state and local partners who mobilized quickly to win this high-impact project that several other Southeast U.S. states fiercely pursued.
Bharat Forge’s North Carolina plant will use aluminum lightweighting technology to manufacture automotive components. Aluminum lightweighting increases fuel efficiency and extends the range of battery-powered vehicles.
“This was the right time for bringing our technology to the U.S.,” said Ravi Nagarkar, president of Bharat Forge Aluminum USA, Inc.
“We are having the aluminum forging process established in Germany for automotive companies and a similar set will be commissioned to serve U.S. automotive companies. This helps in reducing the weight and thus provides lightweighting solutions for the present and future, especially for electric vehicles.”
How did North Carolina and Lee County edge out competing sites in South Carolina, which offered a higher package of local and state incentives, and Kentucky, which boasts a metal forgings cluster? It was the commitment to fully understanding and addressing the company’s needs.
North Carolina first responded to news of the company’s U.S. site search in February 2019, with Kiser and the EDPNC’s Rahul Padmanabha developing the lead into an active project by April. Then Smith stepped in to oversee recruiting the company on the state’s behalf.
The EDPNC hired Padmanabha in 2018 as the state’s first-ever foreign direct investment representative based in India. His familiarity with the Kalyani Group helped inform Smith’s efforts. He and Kiser also visited Kalyani ‘s headquarters in Pune, India, after the company’s first site visit to North Carolina.
Bharat Forge wanted a U.S. location offering a solid educational ecosystem and workforce, strong infrastructure, proximity to a major urban area and airport, and timely approval of permits. The site also had to adhere to Vastu shastra design principles, a traditional system of Indian architecture that influences a building’s orientation with nature.
“Vastu considerations might, for example, involve the location of water features on a property and where the sun rises,” Smith said. “It was very important to their site-selection process.”
— Bob Joyce, Economic Development Director, Sanford Area Growth Alliance
The EDPNC coordinated visits by Kalyani executives to five North Carolina sites. Vastu considerations immediately eliminated the first Sanford location they visited, ready-to-go acreage in Central Carolina Enterprise Park.
“But luckily the week before, we learned that a large parcel of private property was for sale right across U.S. 1,” said Bob Joyce, economic development director with the Sanford Area Growth Alliance. “So we jumped in the car and looked at the site. No work had been done on it. It was a big park-like wilderness.”
Several suspenseful weeks later, Smith gave local officials the good news: The rougher tract was a contender. “We knew that other sites were more developed and that we had to move quickly,” Joyce said.
Local officials optioned and acquired the property, did robust engineering analysis, and committed to rough grading it and extending water and sewer infrastructure. “All that is upfront time and money that the company will not have to spend,” Smith said. The county and state also offered incentives.
Recruitment also required Kalyani executives meet with top state leaders including Gov. Roy Cooper and Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland. In addition, the EDPNC arranged for a roundtable discussion at N.C. State University, where Kalyani executives heard about the university’s stellar engineering programs and customized workforce training available through the community college system.
Bharat Forge ultimately announced its choice of North Carolina and Lee County in September.
“The interest in bringing the project here was very high compared to other states,” Nagarkar said. “The various organizations worked hand-in-hand in North Carolina to support us. That is a comfort, especially to a company on an aggressive timeline and bringing in new technology.”