While the beep-beep of the huge vehicles working at the Fritz Winter new foundry site continued Wednesday morning under bright sunshine and cloudless skies, Henning Knipper, Fritz Winter Group project manager, thought back to the first time he saw the site where the Germany company would eventually place its first manufacturing facility outside of Germany.
"It was raining like hell," Knipper said. "Of course, we had rain on every site visit."
Wilkey North Industrial Park in Simpson County was eventually selected for the German company's first non-German sited facility in 65 years. Ground was broken by officials Wednesday under a tent nearby where the concrete pads and lots of construction equipment was turning Kentucky green fields into a place where eventually a foundry and mechanical machining production area of 306,878 square feet will be located. Gray Construction is building the facility.
Fritz Winter is based in Stadtallendorf, Germany.
The Franklin site is the last large location available in the Wilkey North Industrial Park. At one point in the search process, Fritz Winter was looking over 160 possible sites in America and the search process lasted about two years. The 370-acre Wilkey North Industrial Park off U.S. 31W Highway also has CSX Railway access.
"At times, we were a bit nervous," Franklin Mayor Pro Tem Larry Dixon said. "This is a great day — Wow, what a project!"
Fritz Winter produces cast iron engine blocks and heads, brake rotors and drums, flywheels and hydraulic castings. The family-owned company plans to bring about 340 jobs and make a nearly $200 million investment over five years. Phase One brings more than 200 jobs and represents an investment of more than $100 million, company officials said. Officials said the jobs provide a good living and good benefits.
The plant will produce 60,000 metric tons annually of ferrous parts cast and manufacture disc brake rotors for leading automakers in the Midwest and the Southeast, company officials said.
But more than just jobs, Fritz Winter officials said they want to be a good neighbor to Simpson County. They already feel Franklin has been a good neighbor to them.
"This is one of the most important milestones of our company," said Jorg Rumikewitz, Fritz Winter Group chief executive officer. "This is the first time we have established a production facility out of the country. Some people thought this day would never come. We looked at the people that we would have to work with. You always gave us the impression that we are welcome in Franklin, Kentucky."
The foundry will be 182,433 square feet and the mechanical machining production area will be 124,445 square feet. Fritz Warner officials said it came to Kentucky because of the close proximity to its customers, the availability of highly skilled workers and the onsite infrastructure found at the Wilkey North Industrial Park.
Fritz Winter employs 3,700 people worldwide and the Franklin facility will serve as the company's new U.S. headquarters. Production at the facility is expected to begin in the summer of 2017.
Erik Dunnigan, acting secretary for the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet, said Gov. Matt Bevin looks forward to cutting the ribbon when the facility is finished. Dunnigan said Bevin was on the phone to Fritz Winter officials soon after his swearing-in as Kentucky's new governor to make sure that the project begun under the Beshear administration would still go forward. Later, Bevin toured the Fritz Winter facility in Germany.
"We will grow this business and create jobs — safe jobs," said Roland Reim, chief executive officer of Fritz Winter North America.
State Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, R-Greensburg, said he was impressed by how the German company looks at Kentucky.
"One of the resounding themes is Fritz Winter is a family. They view this as Franklin, Kentucky, becoming part of their family," Givens said.
State Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, envisions similar companies to Fritz Winter coming to Simpson County.
"When we look back on industrial development in southcentral Kentucky in the coming years, this will be one of the significant pieces," Stone said.
Simpson County Judge Executive Jim Henderson said Fritz Winter's coming to the county could be viewed as significant was when now Berry Plastics came to town in the 1950s. "It is a milestone investment," Henderson said.
Simpson County Schools Superintendent Jim Flynn said the Fritz Winter decision is a win-win for the community.
"As an educator we look at how we can partner with them and provide high quality," Flynn said.
Dennis Griffin, director of the Franklin Simpson Industrial Authority, said he wasn't deterred when the rain fell on that first Fritz Winter site visit.
"It's not how you start off, but how you finish," Griffin said.
— Follow business reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com