Schaeffler Group USA's Wooster, Ohio, plant may serve as a template for how auto suppliers bring new autonomous and electric vehicle technologies to market quickly in a world where engineers are a scarce commodity.
Last year, Schaeffler invested $60 million to expand the plant, about 60 miles southwest of Cleveland, to start production of hybrid modules, which combine an electric motor with a hydrodynamic converter. It is the first of many Schaeffler electrification products to come, according to the German supplier.
The investment makes Wooster Schaeffler's U.S. center for advanced e-mobility development, with the promise that more will come as the local work force develops.
The plant "is a testament to our commitment to attract and retain the best and brightest talent," Schaeffler Group CEO Klaus Rosenfeld said in a statement in November.
A key to that is a plant apprentice program that fills the pipeline with future engineers.
Schaeffler's recruiting efforts start long before potential engineers graduate from college. Plant officials recruit potential apprentice candidates from Wooster area community colleges and high schools, said Schaeffler spokesman Richard Neilson.
"They can get them up to a skill level and move right into the apprentice program," he said.
One such apprentice recruit at the plant, Jeff Hemphill, is now Schaeffler's chief technology officer for North America.
Schaeffler says 83 percent of its apprentices stay with the company after they complete the program. Currently, 198 graduates work at the Wooster plant. The company expects to create more apprentice positions as it expands North American production deeper into the electrified vehicle market.
The Ohio expansion was supported by a menu of local and state grants.
The city provided a 10-year tax abatement covering 75 percent of the new value of the expansion.
"This gives them a chance to grow after making this investment," said Jonathan Millea, Wooster's development coordinator.
The State of Ohio kicked in a $500,000 economic development grant, and the city and state provided job creation tax credits. In return, Schaeffler invested $11 million in the physical plant and installed about $50 million in new equipment.
The plant will be making parts for transmissions for use in hybrid and electric vehicles.
About 100 jobs are expected to be added.
"Wooster has been the ideal location for growth," says Marc McGrath, Schaeffler's Automotive Americas president.