By Christopher Connell
When the Austrian specialty steel company Voestalpine AG looked for the right place in the United States to assemble parts for premium automobile manufacturers, the South seemed perfect.
“We followed our customers,” says Peter Schwab, a Voestalpine management board member and head of its metal forming division.
The company’s Cartersville, Georgia, plant is 330 kilometers from Spartanburg, South Carolina, the site of the largest BMW plant in the world. It is also about the same distance to the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and less than half that to the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Voestalpine employs 2,400 people at 47 U.S. locations, including 280 in Cartersville, now undergoing its third expansion.
Informing international companies and investors of the positive climate for doing business in the U.S. is a White House priority. The U.S. attracts more foreign direct investment than any other country. Foreign investments stood at a record $3.7 trillion in the most recent year for which data is available and provided nearly 7 million jobs.
Voestalpine, which makes precision steel and metal parts for railway, aerospace and energy industries as well as automakers, has invested $1.4 billion in the U.S. in the past five years.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s SelectUSA program and commercial attachés in U.S. embassies connect with foreign investors and help companies new to the United States overcome obstacles.
In fact, each of the 50 U.S. states competes vigorously to attract businesses. Schwab was impressed that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal paid a visit to the company’s Linz, Austria, headquarters.
Philipp Schulz, the managing director of Voestalpine Automotive Components, Cartersville, was dispatched to the United States to find the best location. “We looked at 33 possibilities in three states,” all offering tax and other incentives, he said. Cartersville, only 64 kilometers from Atlanta, won out for the ease of doing business there, he said.
The company found schools and colleges eager to work with it on teaching skills necessary to operate the plant’s equipment. If machinists in Georgia encounter unusual problems, they can don augmented-reality glasses that allow specialists at a sister company in Germany to help with the fix.
Cartersville is also home to a tire plant owned by the Japanese company Toyo Tires. Almost 12 percent of the Georgia county’s workforce is employed by a foreign affiliate.
“It’s a surprisingly international community and has a lot of perks you wouldn’t expect in a city of that size. They even have two great museums,” says Schulz.
The location is ideal and not just for auto suppliers, says Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor. “We’re getting a lot of looks right now from other industry.”
“Because of technology and automation, manufacturing is coming back to America,” says Taylor.
To firms considering U.S. investments, Schwab offers this advice: “If you have questions, ask, and you’ll get answers. People in the U.S. are very helpful.”