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Gestamp making parts for Mercedes, BMW

The controller of Gestamp's South Charleston stamping plant said the factory is cold-stamping parts for Mercedes and BMW and will hot-stamp parts soon for Volkswagen, Honda, Ford and General Motors.

Paul Meisel gave an update on Gestamp's activities Tuesday at the South Charleston Economic Development Authority's monthly meeting at Little Creek Country Club.

"The work we do is called 'offload,' " he said. "Our sister plants were operating at over capacity due to volume increases so we absorbed from their excess."

Gestamp is based in Madrid, Spain. Meisel said the company has more than 75 locations, including nine in North America. He said Gestamp's annual sales total more than 5 billion euros ($6.4 billion). He estimated that North America accounts for about 20 percent of the company's revenues.

"We are high-tech blacksmiths," he said. "We take a piece of metal and beat it into different shapes - and we do it well." That's called cold stamping.

Meisel said the plant's cold stamping customers include Gestamp Alabama, which makes parts for Mercedes; Gestamp South Carolina, which makes parts for BMW; and Gestamp Chattanooga, which makes parts for Volkswagen.

Hot stamping involves heating metal until it glows and then forming it. Hot stamping will be the South Charleston plant's specialty, Meisel said.

"Our future hot stamping customers are Volkswagen, Honda and Ford. We're already in production on some VW parts. We began production about four weeks ago. They are parts for the Passat at Chattanooga, where they make about 180,000 cars a year."

The parts made in South Charleston include door pillars and a metal piece under the back seat.

South Charleston will use the hot stamping process to make pillars and a door beam for the Honda Odyssey minivan that will be assembled starting in June 2013 in Lincoln, Ala., Meisel said. South Charleston will begin making those parts in April or May.

Gestamp expects to begin making parts for an all-new Ford Transit truck next fall.

"This is bigger than the current Transit van," Meisel said. "It will be built in Kansas City, Kansas. We'll make 43 parts for that vehicle - pillars, roof beams, a doorsill, structural members. That vehicle is projected to start production in September.

"We've been recently awarded GM business for a vehicle to be built in Lordstown, Ohio," he said. "I don't have any details yet."

The South Charleston plant has gone from nine employees in June to 91 now.

"We're projecting 95 to 98 before Christmas," Meisel said. "We're looking at about 150 by mid-year next year and 200 by the end of next year. I think our legal commitment is 175 so we're ahead of that pace.

"The target is 400 at the end of five years. The plan to get there looks fairly clear to me. We deal with all of the major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Typically you know where you'll be about a year and a half to two years out. I think it's a pretty positive story for the area and for us."

Meisel said the company already has invested $25 million in South Charleston. "We've actually exceeded that. It's probably closer to $30 million."

Gestamp has promised to eventually invest at least $100 million in the plant and hire at least 400 employees. In return, the company will receive state and local tax incentives that have been estimated to be worth between $55 million and $84.4 million.

During a question-and-answer period, Charleston Newspapers and Gazette President and Publisher Betty Chilton asked if the plant has encountered a qualified workforce.

"It all depends on the particular job you're hiring for," Meisel said. "The fallout here is not higher - it's probably a little lower than I've experienced in other locations. We've had good luck hiring engineers, good luck hiring business people. I'd say on the whole, the skills are available.

"The biggest concern I have when you hire a production entry-level workforce is your turnover is always big. One issue is substance abuse. Over the years I've seen more people terminated for not coming to work than for any other cause. You do see some issues but it's not so bad.

"Some people say they have a GED (General Educational Development certificate) or high school diploma but don't. If you don't have one, we just can't let you in the door."

South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said the community and technical colleges operating in the West Virginia Regional Technology Park are going to be in close contact with employers, offering training.

Meisel said the stamping plant's human resources department has been working with several schools. "A tool-and-die maker apprenticeship program has been approved and a maintenance apprenticeship program is in the works," he said.

Also at the meeting:

  • The Rev. Steven Smith of the United Disciples of Christ Church gave a briefing on the church's plans for the 71.3 acres it is developing on the backside of the tech park. The church's main building - a two-story, 15,327-square-foot structure - is expected to be finished in February. It will seat 350 people and an overflow area will seat 200 more, he said.
  • The church also is planning on having hiking trails, wants to build an amphitheater, would like to have some soccer, baseball and football fields, and hopes to build a day care center.

    Eventually the church hopes a road in the development will be connected to the tech park.

    A connecting road "would be helpful to provide access to day care," Smith said. "We see this (development) as an oasis in the business of life."

    The church wants to make its facilities available to the community. "We want to meet some of South Charleston's needs," Smith said. "We realize it is a big, hairy, audacious goal. I encourage you to contact me if you have some interest."

    Bill Wilcox, a member of the congregation, is acting as the outreach contact on the project. He can be reached at 304-552-6121.

  • Mullens, Chilton and South Charleston business recruiter Bob Anderson honored Larry Levak, vice president and advertising director of Charleston Newspapers, who will retire Dec. 31.
  • Levak has been with the newspaper company for 33 years.

    "Retirement is a mixed emotion for me," he said. "I've been at the paper so long they are my family. It's been fun working with people like Bob. He toots our horn. He's the best promoter the newspaper has. Thanks for this."

    Chilton said Levak "has been a joy to work with all of these years. He's a wonderful head of advertising and vice president. He's one of the kindest, nicest people I've ever known. He's going to be missed at Charleston Newspapers but he's going to stay in touch."

    Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

     


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