Lear Corp.'s seating plant in Hammond, Ind., is to begin production any day now, after an infusion of $30 million to prepare it for a new mission.
For Hammond, an old industrial city in northwest Indiana, Lear's plant represents a decades-long commitment by the manufacturer. For Lear, the investment makes clear that the city is still a viable address.
The project created a modern 240,000-square-foot assembly and subassembly plant by consolidating two Lear factories and work forces in Hammond and nearby Portage, Ind. Lear's previous Hammond plant had about 600 workers. The new factory will have about 875.
Lear expects commercial production to start at the end of this month, supplying 375,000 seats a year to Ford Motor Co.'s Chicago Assembly Plant for the Ford Explorer.
In February, the viability of Lear's factory became even clearer when Ford announced it will spend $1 billion at Chicago Assembly and at its nearby Chicago Stamping Plant to produce a new generation of Explorers and Lincoln Aviators, adding 500 workers.
Jill Caruso, Lear's vice president of Global Ford Seating, said the decision to stay in Hammond was relatively easy. The site is about 20 minutes from Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant, and Lear has a long-standing relationship with the local work force.
"We decided to stay in Hammond due to the proximity to our work force and customer," Caruso told Automotive News.
She cited the company's ties to Hammond, the local UAW and Indiana.
Indeed, the seat plant already was one of the city's top 10 employers and has supplied seats to Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant since 1994.
But Hammond faced competition from communities around Chicago for the Lear project. Hammond is on the outskirts of Gary, Ind., and, like other Rust Belt communities, has endured years of economic challenges.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said at the time of the plant announcement that his city's economic development team spent hundreds of hours working to retain Lear, which reported 2018 global automotive sales of $21.1 billion. The Hammond Redevelopment Commission approved $4 million in incentives to induce Lear to stay.
"Losing Lear would have been a blow to Hammond's economy," McDermott said. "Instead, we will receive a new investment of $30 million, and hundreds of new jobs as well."