An electric car maker plans to open a factory in a northern Indiana plant that once made parts for recreational vehicles.
State and local officials joined executives from Think North America for an official announcement Tuesday. The plant
in Elkhart will be Think North America’s first in the U.S. and provide much-needed jobs in a city that has been struggling
since the RV industry collapsed during the recession.
Think chief executive officer Richard Canny drove into the
Elkhart plant in an electric car built in Europe, got out, walked to a podium and declared a new era in manufacturing had
arrived in the city. His company plans to invest more than $43 million in building improvements and equipment in Elkhart.
"We decided we wanted to be somewhere where we could really make a difference,"
Think North America, a subsidiary of Norwegian-based Think Global, projects its new factory could have
415 full-time jobs by 2013. Think Global currently makes its compact, two-door electric passenger cars at a plant in Finland.
It has sold more than 1,500 vehicles in Europe.
The company began looking in Elkhart after negotiations broke down
last week with the owner of a property in the nearby town of Middlebury, said Tom Kemeny, Think North
America’s chief financial officer.
The Elkhart City Council gave initial approval Monday night
to a 10-year tax abatement plan for the company.
The Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered the company
up to $3 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $65,000 in training grants based on the company’s job-creation
Gov. Mitch Daniels took part in the formal announcement Tuesday afternoon at the
former facility for Philips Products, which made doors and windows for the RV industry. That plant, which
had about 250 workers, closed last summer.
Think North America officials said they planned
to start selling Think City electric cars in the U.S. later this year. The company expects production to start at
the Elkhart factory in early 2011. The plant will eventually build more than 20,000 cars a year.
The factory could
prove to be a boon for Indianapolis-based lithium-ion battery supplier EnerDel. EnerDel’s parent company, New York-based Ener1
Inc., has a 31-percent stake in Think Global.
Barkley Garrett, the Elkhart’s economic development
director, said city officials worked through the weekend to complete the deal with the company after
it ended talks for the Middlebury site.
"We’re not poaching other communities’ projects," Garrett
said. "We knew our site was a backup site. We were not involved in negotiations until they contacted us."
Two other companies are working on plans to make electric vehicles in nearby Wakarusa.
Corp. plans to build all-electric delivery trucks this year with a $39 million federal grant. Startup Electric Motors Corp.
intends to make electric-hybrid drive trains to be installed in various vehicles, starting with a joint venture with Gulf
Stream that would make light-duty electric trucks.
Elkhart County’s unemployment rate peaked in March at 18.9 percent
but has fallen steadily since, hitting 14.5 percent in November.
"I don’t think it makes any difference who
gets this company or where they go as long as they go in Elkhart County," County Council President John Leatherman said.
"What we’re trying to build here is an electric car cluster, which is really a new diversification for this economy."