Auto industry comeback reopens Etowah foundry

Auto industry comeback reopens Etowah foundry

July 29th, 2011 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

ThyssenKrupp Waupaca's Etowah, Tenn., plant is seen from the air.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Jimmie Lewis says her granddaughter moved from McMinn County, Tenn., over a year ago when her husband's job at Waupaca foundry was shifted to Indiana in the shutdown of the local operation.

Now, with plans by Waupaca to restart the Etowah foundry and bring back 250 jobs, Lewis hopes her granddaughter and her family will return as well.

"There may be an opportunity for them to come back home," she said, adding she has two great-grandchildren she'd like to see more often.

On Thursday, ThyssenKrupp Waupaca said that early next year it will bring back the foundry that was shuttered as a result of the auto industry meltdown in 2009.

Gary Gigante, the company's chief executive, said the facility is one of the most technologically advanced in the iron castings industry.

"The reopening of our Etowah foundry is good news for our customers and for the state of Tennessee, but also for the men and women we will be able to put back to work," he said.

Later this year, the company will begin adding 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space to the 270,000-square-foot facility for ductile iron production, said company spokesman Matt Rhodes.

He said he didn't have a cost estimate for that project, but it is unrelated to an expansion that was announced in 2007 though not carried out. Rhodes declined to name the foundry's customers but said several are in Tennessee.

The foundry was idled in January 2010 after the downturn in the North American automotive and truck markets and a decline in orders.

When it reopens, the plant will make castings for disc brake rotors and brake drums. The foundry also will manufacture castings for products such as differential cases and crankshafts, according to the company.

Hiring starts in April

Hiring of maintenance and production personnel is to begin in August with the rehiring of former employees affected by the idling, according to the company.

Start-up is to begin in two phases, it said. Production of gray iron will start in the first quarter of 2012 and reach full capacity by late in the third quarter. Ductile iron will be produced starting in next year's second quarter and fully ramp up by the first quarter 2013, officials said.

Etowah Mayor Burke Garwood said the restart of the foundry benefits workers in the area.

"Families will be reunited," he said, noting some idled foundry workers took jobs at the ThyssenKrupp Waupaca facility in Indiana.

He added that the local foundry uses a lot of electricity, water and gas and helps tax coffers.

Durant Tullock, who directs the Etowah Chamber of Commerce, said the loss of the foundry jobs had a major affect on the town.

"One of the most important things is everybody needs a change of attitude," he said. "We've seen so much negative as bad as it has been. This will help our mindset."