With U.S. auto manufacturing now entrenched in the Southeast, two international suppliers have joined forces to establish a supply base within easy reach of automakers.

GF Linamar combines the die-casting expertise of Swiss firm GF Automotive with the machining capabilities of Canada’s Linamar Corp. in a partnership that will supply lightweight components to the North American automotive industry.

We know from experience North Carolina’s workforce will exceed our expectations for precision and quality. – Carlos Vasto, GF Linamar general manager

They chose North Carolina for their $217 million joint venture for three key attributes: the state’s skilled manufacturing workforce, favorable business climate, and central location – within a day’s drive of legacy automakers in the Midwest and even closer to those in the Southeast.

“North Carolina is part of our strategy,” said Carlos Vasto, general manager of GF Linamar, which ultimately will employ 500 people and worked closely with state recruiters housed under the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“You can’t beat North Carolina as a supply base. Its interstate highways provide easy access throughout the Southeast and to customers across the country,” Vasto said. “At the same time, we also needed a place where workers understand advanced manufacturing – and we know from experience North Carolina’s workforce will exceed our expectations for precision and quality.”

Linamar had already established machining plants on opposite ends of the state, in the towns of Arden and Wilson. The new joint venture is in Mills River, North Carolina, and will leverage its location to collaborate on finishing parts with Linamar’s Arden plant a few miles away.

The Mills River location also puts GF Linamar’s new 270,000-square-foot plant on the route for “milk runs” made by nearby automakers, who save on shipping costs by sending trucks daily to pick up parts from area suppliers.

“North Carolina is on the radar for automakers and suppliers worldwide,” said Andrew Tate, president and CEO of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development. “While the auto cluster continues to grow in and around Western North Carolina, the whole state appeals to the auto industry because of its robust and mature supply base, business-friendly climate, and available megasites you need to accommodate automakers.”

Although location topped the list of criteria, what helped sealed the deal for GF Linamar was the business environment as well as the support it received from several partners in North Carolina. Specifically:

  • The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina guided GF Linamar to job-creation incentives and support for land, road construction, utilities and training costs.
  • Blue Ridge Community College added a molding and die-casting training center to develop GF Linamar’s new employees.
  • North Carolina’s corporate income tax rate of 3 percent – the lowest in the nation – was appealing, as were property taxes that compared favorably to other states.
  • The vitality and natural beauty of nearby Asheville and the North Carolina mountains make it easy to recruit talent from GF Linamar’s parent companies in Europe and Canada.

“We like to hire locally whenever we can,” said Vasto, “but sometimes we need engineers who know our equipment and processes, and they welcome relocating to this area. Asheville has a real European feel, the climate is good, and there are plenty of cultural and recreational things to do.”

Leading the Industry

This is a moment of opportunity for us to lead, a moment in which everything has come together at the right time and in the right place.

- Carlos Vasto, GF Linamar general manager

GF Linamar reduces the weight of automotive components to enhance fuel efficiency and reduce auto emissions, without compromising safety.

The manufacturer injects molten aluminum and magnesium under high pressure into molds for engine parts, battery housings, door frames and other structural automotive components. According to Vasto, even shaving a few kilograms from standard car parts can increase efficiency, while the parts’ design and materials enhance its ability to absorb energy in a crash.

“Emissions standards in Europe are much tougher than in the U.S., but that is the direction the auto industry is going,” said Vasto. “Just look at the advances in electric cars and other efforts to enhance fuel efficiency in the U.S. and around the world. This is a moment of opportunity for us to lead, a moment in which everything has come together at the right time and in the right place.”

Training Support

The beauty of North Carolina workers is they bring a generational background and understanding of the work ethic and innovation required in manufacturing.

- Carlos Vasto, GF Linamar general manager

For Vasto, the training center at Blue Ridge Community College – which opened in May 2017 – was a particularly remarkable demonstration of North Carolina’s support and collaboration.

The training center replicates a smaller scale production line at the GF Linamar plant, providing hands-on training for new employees and those at other companies using high-pressure metal and plastic molding technology.

Funding for equipment and retrofit of the college’s Advanced Technologies Building was provided by the NC Golden LEAF Foundation, Henderson County and the North Carolina Community College System. GF Linamar and its suppliers contributed by donating machinery and equipment valued at more than $2 million, and the company is helping develop the curriculum for the unique facility.

Long term, the college plans to offer a full associate’s degree in die casting and molding.

“We take training very seriously, and North Carolina completely embraced our desire to further develop a local workforce well-versed in manufacturing to fit the very specific skill set we need,” Vasto said. “When you have multimillion dollar pieces of equipment involved and the demand for precision auto parts, you want to know your team understands every component as well as the entire production process.”

GF Linamar’s training takes three months, and a number of employees will also travel to Austria for on-the-floor training at the parent company.

“We are a good example of new generation manufacturing – clean, high-tech and a place of opportunity,” said Vasto. “We pay you to learn and offer a nice lifetime profession, and the beauty of North Carolina workers is they bring a generational background and understanding of the work ethic and innovation required in manufacturing.”

For more information on GF Linamar, visit the automotive components maker’s website.

GF Linamar is one of nearly 300 automotive manufacturing companies in North Carolina, an industry that employs more than 26,000 people and has grown by more than 25 percent in the past five years.

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