Indiana manufacturers embrace 21st-century opportunities

Don Foley, Indiana Economic Development Corporation

Indiana’s long history of expertise in research, engineering, product development and advanced manufacturing is helping position the state to be a global leader in the 21st-century transportation industry.


In the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen exciting new announcements and developments in the area of green-tech manufacturing – especially when it comes to alternative fuel vehicles. While many states are pursuing economic activity in this field, Indiana’s combination of automotive manufacturing history, engineering and management expertise, skilled and innovative workers and central location provide our state with a substantial advantage in the emergence of this next generation industry and the jobs it will create.


Consider these recent developments:


• In May, the new Honda Manufacturing of Indiana plant in Greensburg started producing “America’s greenest car” – a natural gas powered vehicle. The new Civic GX is the only natural gas powered vehicle built by a major automaker in the United States and is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency to be 90 percent cleaner than the average gasoline powered car on the road today. The GX has received top environmental awards and is the only natural gas powered passenger car available for sale in all 50 states. The new Honda Greensburg plant, a $550 million facility that opened last fall, makes both the Civic GX and a traditional gasoline powered Civic sedan. The factory currently employs about 1,000 Indiana workers.


• Electric Motors Corporation (EMC) and Gulf Stream Coach in May announced a partnership and plans to build light-duty electric vehicles in north central Indiana. EMC, which develops and manufactures electric power drive systems for electric and hybrid vehicles, will partner with RV manufacturer Gulf Stream Coach to produce the first light-duty electric pickup truck. The companies plan to invest more than $80 million on building renovations, machinery and equipment to locate manufacturing facilities in hard-hit Elkhart County. This venture has the potential to create more than 1,600 jobs by 2012.


• EnerDel Inc. was selected this month to receive one of seven cost-sharing research awards from the U.S. Department of Energy. EnerDel will receive up to $3.3 million to develop a product that will eliminate the danger of overcharging lithium-ion batteries for electric-powered vehicles. EnerDel is the only U.S. manufacturer of automotive-grade lithium-ion batteries. Its global research, production and manufacturing operations are located in Indianapolis. The company estimates that nearly 850 jobs will be created in Indiana as a result of its research and commercialization.


• Hagerstown-based Autocar LLC last week announced a supplier deal with a California-based Balqon Corporation to develop and market zero-emission, heavy-duty electric vehicles. Under the three-year agreement, the companies will jointly develop and market zero-emission electric vehicles for use on on-road, short-haul applications. Autocar, a leading service truck manufacturer and marketer, will design and build the vehicle’s customized chassis while Balqon will add electric drive systems.


In addition to these major developments, Indiana is working hard to leverage the state’s existing expertise in other green-tech, energy-related areas.


For example, a partnership of private firms, research institutions and public agencies announced in April the formation of the Energy Systems Network (ESN), a new organization that will focus on bringing new energy technologies to market, leveraging Indiana’s strong manufacturing section, R&D capabilities and heritage of engineering advanced energy systems. Investors have already pledged nearly $1.5 million to support the ESN’s activities over the next two years. The organization already is pursuing two specific projects: The Hoosier Heavy Hybrid Partnership, which is focused on bringing more cost-effective hybrid trucks to market, and Project Plug-In, which will integrate electric vehicles and other technology into the central Indiana commuter market. ESN will be chaired by Joe Loughrey, retiring vice chairman of Cummins Inc.


“Our goal is to identify opportunities and put together partnerships to create the cutting-edge energy technologies that the market is demanding, and then produce as many as possible right here in Indiana,” Loughrey said in unveiling ESN.


Loughrey’s statement perfectly sums up Indiana’s historic strengths as America’s leading manufacturing state. For more than a century, Indiana’s companies and workers have led the nation – and the world – in identifying opportunities, creating partnerships, developing technology and producing products. Those talents, which have served us so well in the past, are now recognizing and embracing the opportunities of the future.