The Highlands Economic Partnership looks to revitalize the region’s auto industry as it enters phase four of the organization’s five-year plan.
Stephen Crook is the Vice President of Economic Development with the HEP. He said the organization is looking to attract smaller manufacturers that would assist in larger manufacturing plants.
“Those OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sites usually involve about 500 acres and up, just acreage we just don’t have,” Crook said. “For us, the sweet spot is the suppliers to the major OEMs, the tier one or tier two suppliers that are making parts that are assembled at Nissan or Volkeswagen, or that Toyota-Mazda site coming online here in a few years.”
Last week, the HEP explained the current phase of their plan, which included marketing and attracting businesses like those in the automotive industry to the highlands region. The HEP found that over 1,100 automotive jobs were lost in an eight-year span within the region between 2005 and 2013.
“We’ve got to make sure that the consultants, companies, trade associations, state partners, and regional partners know about our community,” Crook said. “We’re not exactly taking anybody and everybody. We want to get those companies that can add something to our local economy.”
Companies looking to remain stateside for manufacturing needs could be beneficial to the region. Crook said aligning what the region brings to the table with a company’s needs could lead to more jobs in the area.
“Tier one and tier two manufacturers that are currently manufacturing internationally are looking stateside,” Crook said. “So it’s all about aligning the skills we have from an employee base, the properties we have available to locate facilities, the specific companies that could come here, and trying to take a targeted approach to get after them.”
As part of the HEP’s five-year plan, Crook said they hope to bring about 2,000 jobs to the area, with about 300 of those being in the automotive manufacturing industry. The Highlands Initiative raised over $3.3 million as part of phase four, with money going towards marketing and attracting new businesses to Jackson, Overton, Putnam, and White Counties.