German auto supplier to operate in Murray

Gov. Steve Beshear, right, speaks with Murray State President Randy Dunn shortly before announcing Murray’s newest international business investment. || Austin Ramsey/The News

Gov. Steve Beshear, right, speaks with Murray State President Randy Dunn shortly before announcing Murray’s newest international business investment. || Austin Ramsey/The News

Gov. Steve Beshear announced German automotive supplier iwis (pronounced ee-vis and written in lower case) will establish its first U.S.-based manufacturing operation in Murray next year.

The new company will move into the 119,000-square-foot old Webasto plant that closed down north of Murray in 2008 and bring 75 new jobs to the region.

The announcement comes at the heels of an almost month-long international economic development trip the governor took over the summer. Beshear met with representatives from the German automobile parts manufacturer in Munich to discuss the advantages of locating in Kentucky. Site observers had shown interest in Murray as a possible start to the company’s American operation after meeting with members of the Purchase Area Economic Development Corporation in Chicago and touring unused property on U.S. Hwy. 641 north of Murray.

Beshear, who spoke alongside local officials last Friday, Nov. 30, praised the more than $12.5 million investment iwas has pledged to the Murray location. He said it represented a positive step toward raising investment interests by foreign companies. Only two weeks ago, French cosmetic and beauty company L’Oreal announced its own $42 million expansion of its Florence, Ky., location and added 200 new jobs.

iwis is the next step in garnering a broadened interest in Kentucky investments, Beshear said. The company is only just the most recent addition to a list of 440 international companies that have made investments in the state.

“This is a very exciting day for Murray, for Calloway County – for all of Kentucky,” he said.

Founded in 1916, iwis began as a widely successful European bicycle chain production company based in Munich. The company expanded to the iwis Group midway through the 20th century and began mastering the production of high-quality vehicle and industrial timing chains for camshafts, injection pumps, differential shafts, oil pumps and auxiliary units. Today, the company is one of the top automobile component producers worldwide, aiding in the production of widely varying machines. iwis employees more than 1,000 people in 22 facilities around the world.

Beshear, spoke Friday to a group of more than 50 people on the factory floor of the new iwis home in Murray. He said he was especially excited to put more western Kentuckians back to work after years of little to no employment in a staggering national economy.

“That represents 75 Kentucky families that are going to be able to put their kids down at their pillows at night with a lot more confidence that they’re going to be able to support their families and continue to create that quality of life that we are so proud of here in west Kentucky,” he said. “They will build on and improve that quality of life.”

Beshear said the company would begin production almost exactly one year from now, before ramping up production in 2014 to optimize its staff and management capacity.

iwis Managing Director Johannes Winklhofer was also present for the Friday announcement. Beshear thanked him for his confidence in the region by presenting him with a Kentucky memorabilia painting. Beshear said it was a combined effort that included his office, the Murray-Calloway Economic Development Corporation, the Murray Chamber of Commerce and local government officials that helped make Murray the attractive place it soon became for Winklhofer and his team.

“This success, folks, is due to a team effort,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen. It happens because people really work together, come together, cooperate, coordinate and make it happen.”

Winklhofer said the process of finding a home for the first U.S. manufacturer was a tedious process, and he said Murray was not even a contender at the start. The company holds subsidiary bases in Detroit and Indianapolis, and he said a site selection team he had organized with the help of the German-American Chamber of Commerce was strategically searching for regional cities around those northern states.

The team chose states like Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa initially, but Winklhofer suggested they conduct reviews of states farther south. Murray came up in preliminary investigations, and Mark Manning, executive director of the MCEDC, gave what Winklhofer called a very convincing presentation at a development summit in Chicago.

“My employees came to me and told me, ‘We must see this. We must go there,’” he said. “We did some investigations here and a management team came over to verify the site, and a couple of days after this visit here, we got a call from the office of Gov. Beshear. I was totally surprised. I never expected that a governor of a U.S. state would take care of a small company of Europe.”

That is when Beshear visited Winklhofer in Germany and discussed the advantages of locating in western Kentucky.

“We from Munich feel very much that you have welcomed us,” Winklhofer said.

 Story by Austin Ramsey, Editor-in-Chief.