A formal ribbon cutting ceremony was held Friday morning for the massive new ZF Transmissions Plant in Laurens County’s Owings Industrial Park. The plant is now manufacturing 8 and 9 speed transmissions, and new employees are being added as the plant ramps up to full operations. 1,200 people are to be employed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, another major expansion of the plant was announced Friday. Already the biggest investment in the company’s 100 years of operation, the latest-announced expansion includes another $175,000 in capital investment and is to create an additional 450 new jobs. It marks the third expansion in four years for ZF, and brings the company’s total investment in South Carolina to $600 million. Total employment at the Laurens County plant is expected to reach 1,650 people by 2016.
At Friday’s ceremonies, ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer said “We are honored to present the U.S. home of the automatic transmission.” He said “This is an important step toward bridging the distance to our customers and having an even better opportunity of accessing North America, the most important foreign market for us.”
ZF Transmissions Gray Court, LLC is the manufacturing site of the 8-speed automatic transmission as well as the world’s first 9-speed automatic transmission. ZF’s new 9-speed transmission is specially designed for passenger cars with front-transverse engines. Compared to today’s standard 6-speed automatic transmission, it cuts fuel consumption by up to 16 percent.
The 950,000-square-foot Gray Court plant is expected to produce 1.2 million transmissions annually. Previously, the 8-speed automatic transmission was only manufactured in Saarbrücken, Germany. The company also plans to expand on the existing capacities of its German 8HP plant. By 2016, a total of around 1.4 million square feet will be available so customers can be adequately served.
“ZF continues to show its commitment to growth in South Carolina, and to professional training for its employees. Today’s announcement indicates that ZF sees South Carolina as the right place for its business. We celebrate ZF’s additional $175 million investment and the creation of 450 new jobs in Laurens County,” said Governor Nikki Haley.
Since January 2011, South Carolina has recruited more than $9 billion in capital investment and more than 23,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector. During that same period, more than $5 billion and more than 8,000 jobs have been created in the automotive-related sector.
“Today’s announced investment represents the third one in four years for ZF’s Laurens County operations. ZF’s continued investment in our state not only helps bolster South Carolina’s manufacturing sector, but also shows that our state remains just right for the automotive industry,” said Secretary of Commerce, Bobby Hitt.
“This is great news for Laurens County and the entire upstate. We are proud to have ZF here and look forward to their continued success,” said Jim Coleman, chairman of the Laurens County Council.
Ted Nash of Laurens County Council District 1 added, “ZF has been a great addition to my district and we could not be more pleased to see them continuing to grow.”
“International companies such as ZF have made the Upstate a globally-oriented manufacturing center,” said Upstate SC Alliance president and CEO Hal Johnson. “Regional investments such as the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Piedmont Technical College and Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR) have helped us solidify the Upstate’s position as a place that works with business to make them and us more productive.”
The Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved a RIF grant of $2 million for land acquisition.