For the second time in four months, a company within the Woodside Business Center’s industrial parks will celebrate a major facility expansion.
The CLAAS of America Parts Warehouse expansion ribbon-cutting ceremony will be at 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 18 at 3030 Norcross Drive, according to the company.
While the expansion will not immediately bring new jobs, the company expects to fill an additional 15 full-time positions over the next five years, according to Roger Parker, CLAAS North America parts vice president.
The ribbon-cutting comes after Sunright America — located directly across Interstate 65 from CLAAS — finished its third expansion in 12 years last October with a $34.6 million investment.
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CLAAS holds a unique place in local business history as the first manufacturing plant built in Bartholomew County by a foreign corporation (today, there are 34, according to the Columbus Economic Development website).
During a time when our new president was Ronald Reagan and our Mayor Brown was Nancy Ann, CLAAS in 1981 chose Columbus over 61 other cities for its first U.S. manufacturing facility.
Today, CLAAS KGaA, headquartered in Harsewinkel, Germany, has 24 production and parts facilities worldwide and more than 9,000 employees. Servicing over 100 countries, CLAAS is now the world’s fourth-largest agricultural machinery manufacturer.
In 1981, about 60 people in south-central Indiana were hired to work in the 56,000-square-foot CLAAS building — the first tenant in the Woodside Business Center.
Today, 32 companies are located in the Woodside business area, providing a combined total of 6,626 jobs, according to Columbus Economic Development Board statistics.
However, much of CLAAS’ U.S. manufacturing growth shifted to Nebraska after CLAAS of America moved its headquarters to Omaha in 2003, Parker said.
There are still about 60 local CLAAS workers who are involved almost exclusively in parts distribution, Parker said.
In its first expansion, CLAAS invested $2 million to add another 42,000 square feet to the Bartholomew County facility.
With this second major expansion, the Columbus facility will now exceed 180,000 square feet, marking a 75 percent increase in space, Parker said.
Company officials acknowledge the expansion comes at a shaky time for global agribusiness.
Worldwide reductions in commodity prices have noticeably reduced the willingness of the agricultural sector to invest in new equipment, business analysts report.
According to CLAAS officials, its growth had remained subdued in Western Europe while the Eastern European and Latin American markets had deteriorated as a result of economic and political uncertainty.
Another overseas problem cited by company officials are increased costs resulting from the switchover to new engine emission standards in eastern Europe.
Nevertheless, the company has been able to remain financially stable. In December, CLAAS reported net sales of $4.25 billion (3.82 billion euros) for 2014 — essentially the same as the previous year.
Due to declining commodity prices, all planned CLAAS facility expansions worldwide were placed on hold last year — except the local parts distribution facility, Parker said.
The Woodside facility now has 18 new shipping docks and over 35,000 parts numbers in stock.
It is the need to efficiently ship a large quantity of parts throughout the United States and Canada that makes Columbus the ideal site for expansion, Parker said.
The international headquarters for UPS is in Louisville, and a major FedEx hub is in Indianapolis, he explained.
A short presentation will be made during the Feb. 18 ribbon-cutting event, followed by facility tours and refreshments.
CLAAS is an agricultural machinery manufacturer founded in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia. The company began when August Claas developed the company in Clarholz, Germany in 1913. Six years later, the business was transferred to the city of Harsewinkel, Germany.
After decades of product expansion, CLAAS opened its first factory outside of Germany at Metz, France in 1961. Its first U.S. facility was opened south of Columbus in 1981. However, the CLAAS of America headquarters was moved from Bartholomew County to Omaha, Nebraska in 2003.
Today, the company’s product range includes combine harvesters, forage harvesters, balers, mowers, rakes, and other harvesting machines.