Foreign investment makes ‘cents’ at home

September 12th, 2014

News Coverage:

Foreign investment makes ‘cents’ at home

Economic forum stresses important of attracting overseas firms

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2014 11:00 pm | Updated: 10:33 am, Fri Sep 12, 2014.

By Barry Rochford

SHIPSHEWANA — When Dale Buuck meets with business leaders overseas, one of the first things he does is to pull out a map of northeast Indiana dotted with countries’ flags that represent multinational firms with operations in the 10-county region.

The map Buuck, vice president of business development at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, shows them sports the flags of Brazil, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, among others.

The point he’s trying to make: You will not be alone if you choose to invest in northeast Indiana.

“We use these companies to sell northeast Indiana,” Buuck said Thursday at the Northeast Indiana Regional Economic Development Forum held at the Shipshewana Event Center. The seventh-annual forum was hosted by LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and DeKalb counties’ respective economic development organizations.

Selling northeast Indiana to the world is increasingly important as business becomes more globalized. Buuck said majority-owned subsidiaries of multinational companies that have operations in the United States employ more than 5.6 million across the country.

Overseas companies employ more than 130,000 in Indiana, Buuck said, with Japanese and UK firms boasting the most workers.

Foreign direct investment, Buuck said, is a key source of job creation and capital investment in the United States, and even with the present-day challenges it faces, America still comes out on top in global business confidence rankings. Its skilled workforce, capacity for innovation and invention, and low cost of gas and electricity make it attractive to foreign companies, Buuck said.

Jason Hamman, president of Vermilion, Ohio-based the Hamman Consulting Group Inc. and the keynote presenter at Thursday’s forum, said northeast Indiana has the potential to attract even more foreign investment.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to target smaller or midsized European-based companies,” said Hamman, who works as a site selector for corporate clients and consults with economic development organizations.

To help facilitate business attraction to the region, northeast Indiana economic development groups can act as a “matchmaker.”

“A lot of companies, in Europe especially, they may look for a partnership opportunity with a company here,” he said.

Taking that kind of proactive approach can pay dividends, Hamman said.

“Be aggressive,” he counseled. “The days of having a nice website and saying those people will come and find me, those days are gone.”

Landing a new investment helps northeast Indiana, but so, too, does helping existing foreign-owned operations grow.

Ron Lanning, plant manager at Autoline Industries USA Inc. in Butler — which is owned by India-based Autoline Industries Ltd. — said since the plant began operating in 2007, sales have increased from $7 million annually to an estimated $50 million this year.

He added the DeKalb County operation, which has more than 200 workers making components for the automotive industry, could see sales of $100 million in just five years.

“This area is conducive to growing business and making business work,” he said.

The biggest obstacle he presently faces is finding enough qualified workers to help the company keep growing — and it’s a frustration that echoes across the rest of DeKalb, Steuben, LaGrange and Noble counties, and the northeast Indiana region as a whole.

“I’ve got 40-some jobs available right now,” Lanning said, adding Autoline has a particular need for those with experience using programmable logic controllers.

“It’s not a white-collar, it’s a blue-collar job,” he said. “But it’s a high-paying job.”