GF Linamar, Mills River
Despite low gas prices over the last year and a half, a push to make cars more fuel-efficient and eco-friendly has led to a joint venture of two of the world’s biggest auto-parts manufacturers. Switzerland’s GF Automotive and Canada’s Linamar Corp. formed GF Linamar LLC and picked Henderson County as the site of its first manufacturing plant.
As the auto industry moves away from heavy steel, the new company will hire 350 workers, earning an average annual wage of $47,738, to produce lightweight aluminum powertrain and structural components.
Canada-based Linamar, which had sales of $4 billion in 2015, opened a machining plant in neighboring Buncombe County in 2012, taking over a former Volvo Construction Equipment factory, and two years later launched a $115 million expansion. The new joint venture more closely mimics GF’s technology, says Andrew Tate, president of the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development. A division of publicly traded Georg Fischer AG, GF produces more than 600,000 tons of iron, aluminum and magnesium components at nine worldwide plants annually. Through its aluminum die-casting technology, auto parts can be made at half the weight without compromising safety, Tate says.
GF Linamar acquired a 55-acre site at Ferncliff Industrial Park, where construction will begin soon on a 380,000-square-foot plant that is about a half-mile from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s massive East Coast brewery and adjacent to Asheville Regional Airport. The plant, in Mills River, is expected to open in the second quarter of 2017.
“There really is not an aluminum die-casting operation in the U.S.” from which the company could pull from an existing workforce, Tate says. “They felt like this was a place where people with experience would move to,” adding that Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock has developed a curriculum to train workers for the plant.
GF Linamar also considered Richland County, S.C., near Columbia, but proximity to BMW’s auto manufacturing plant in Greer, S.C., about an hour’s drive from Mills River, was one of several factors that helped the N.C. site, Tate says.
Before the last decade or so, Henderson County’s population was driven by retirees. Now, more than half of residents are younger than 35, Tate says, attracted by the quality of life and low crime rate. “We’re not the cheapest place to do business or to live.” But Henderson County has “less potholes, less mosquitoes and better schools” than South Carolina, he says.