Dana Plans $70M Axle Plant at Old Jeep Site

Dana Holding Corp.’s decision to open an axle manufacturing plant at a once written-off factory site in North Toledo is being seen as a major win for the region’s economy and validation of a bold economic development effort begun just after the Great Recession.

Dana Holding Corp.’s decision to open an axle manufacturing plant at a once written-off factory site in North Toledo is being seen as a major win for the region’s economy and validation of a bold economic development effort begun just after the Great Recession.

Not only did Dana announce plans for a $70 million plant that will employ at least 300 people, but the Fortune 500 company will be the first tenant of the

Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority’s Overland Industrial Park.

The plant, a portion of which is to expected to be operating by mid to late 2017, will make axles for the next generation of the Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle Dana has supplied since the 75-year-old brand started during World War II. And the plant brings Dana back to Toledo, after it moved its headquarters to suburban Maumee several years ago and after it shut down a small factory in 2012.

“This announcement really validates the vision we had when we bought this property back in 2010,” Port Authority President Paul Toth said.

It’s been a long way back for the property that was once home to the Jeep Parkway auto plant. The port purchased the derelict factory from Chrysler in 2010 and went to work tearing down the old buildings and removing a century’s worth of buried junk, contaminants, and concrete foundations from the 111-acre property.

Working with the port, Toledo-based developer NAI Harmon Group erected a 100,000-square-foot industrial building with hopes of luring in a tenant.

It took a while, but they hooked a big one.

Not only will Dana lease all of that facility, but developers have agreed to add another 200,000 square feet of space. Jim Kamsickas, Dana’s chief executive officer, made the announcement Monday while speaking to the Rotary Club of Toledo.

“It’s an honor for Dana to return manufacturing to the same historic site where

Toledo’s automotive industry began more than 100 years ago,” the Dana chief said.

The land is the site of the factory used by John North Willys to make vehicles 100 years ago and became the site of first mass production of the Jeep brand during World War II.

“We’re very excited. We’ve still got a lot of work to do on the site, but this is what can happen when the city and county and state all work together,” said Ed Harmon, president of NAI Harmon Group.

The project is expected to get under way as soon as final details are worked out on financing and local and state incentives are formally approved. Full specifics of the incentives offered weren’t available on Monday, though Lucas County and JobsOhio have each offered $750,000 worth of financing.

Once operational next year, the plant will build the axles that go under the new Jeep Wrangler at the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles complex about three miles away.

Dana and the Jeep owner have a long and storied relationship. Dana axles were used in the original Willys MB that was produced starting in 1941 and in every generation of the Willys CJ and Jeep Wrangler line since then.

The Fiat Chrysler Toledo Assembly Complex makes all of the Wranglers sold worldwide.

Robert Pyle, Dana’s president of light-vehicle driveline technologies, said the company was glad to have the opportunity to bring that work back to Toledo.

“It feels really good for us and right for us,” Mr. Pyle said. “It makes sense for our customers, our employees, and our shareholders. When you can take care of all three of those constituents and do something really good for the community, it’s really the best of all worlds.”

The factory also will build axles for another automaker’s yet-to-be announced project and could have other future opportunities, he said.

Company officials said they did look at other sites, but ultimately Toledo was the best fit.

“It became clear that being in the Toledo area made sense for us,” Mr. Pyle said. “We have a number of our major customers within shipping distance from Toledo, the longstanding history of supplying Jeep, and really the hard work and manufacturing experience of people in Toledo.’’

Mr. Pyle also said the fact that there was a modern building already available helped sway the decision.

“In our business, timing is always really, really tight around these kinds of decisions. If we were really starting from scratch with just a green field, it may not have worked nearly as well as having that initial building there, even though we’ll need to triple its size.”

Mr. Toth and others at the port have long argued that having move-in-ready industrial space is crucial to bringing companies to Toledo. He pointed Monday to a 2009 study commissioned by the port that found 85 percent of companies were looking for existing space.

Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson credited Mr. Toth’s foresight with Monday’s announcement.

“This man had a vision, five, six years ago, took a major gamble and it’s paying off today,” she said.

Though Dana is the first tenant, it may not be the only one for long. Mr. Harmon said another announcement could be coming within two weeks.

“We’re in negotiations and we feel very good about those negotiations,” he said.

Even if the current leads should fall through, port officials say it’s likely they’d move forward putting up another building. By 2020, Mr. Toth believes the industrial park will have approximately 700 jobs on site.

The Overland Industrial Park plant will be Dana’s first manufacturing plant in Toledo since a small axle assembly plant on Matzinger Road closed in 2012. That much smaller facility supported the discontinued Jeep Liberty.

Right now, Dana builds front and rear axles for the Wrangler in Dry Ridge, Ky. Company officials said that facility will remain open supplying other customers and no jobs would be lost there.

Tyrel Linkhorn

Toledo Blade

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