The city’s economic development efforts recently took recruiting efforts to Europe to diversify the region’s manufacturing base.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp., traveled last month to France for the International Paris Air Show, and then to Germany for the Engine Expo in Stuttgart. While in France, their work overlapped an Indiana trade mission delegation led by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

The Paris Air Show served to lay the foundation for the city’s foray into the aerospace industry.

The time in France provided an opportunity for additional relationship building with France-based Faurecia, which has three operations in Columbus employing a combined 1,800 workers, and opened a $64 million data-driven manufacturing facility in October off County Road 450S.

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Columbus’ long history with manufacturing and the automotive industry played well at the Engine Expo, and produced several solid leads in Germany for future investment, Lienhoop and Hester said.

Strengthening bonds

Lienhoop and Hester had a 90-minute meeting with two of Faurecia’s top executives, and later dinner with top company executives and Holcomb. The meeting with the two executives was instructive because it further helped Lienhoop and Hester understand Faurecia’s commitment to the city, and how Columbus can help the company, the mayor said.

“They talked about the fact that when they came here, they made the decision to be here instead of Detroit, and they have got big plans for Columbus,” Lienhoop said.

Faurecia is one of the largest Tier 1 automotive suppliers in the world, providing parts directly to vehicle manufacturers.

“We talked about the things we’ve got in place to help, such as our talent-attraction campaign, public transit, bike sharing,” the mayor said.

However, the meeting also made Hester and Lienhoop understand the competition Columbus faces, even within a company such as Faurecia that has roots in the city.

Hester said Faurecia has four centers of excellence where its best and brightest employees can go: Paris, Munich, Shanghai and Columbus.

That led the discussion toward what Columbus can do to become the location of choice, Hester said.

Many Columbus residents believe the city is a special place to live and work, Lienhoop said, many other special places also exist.

“So that reinforces that we’ve got to improve and promote our community,” the mayor said.

Creating interest

Columbus has made an effort in the past few years to diversify its industries, so that it is less reliant on the automotive industry. Pharmaceuticals and aerospace were identified as two business categories to pursue. Aerospace is a fit, Hester said previously, because skills used in the automotive industry transfer well to aerospace.

The Paris Air Show is the largest aerospace event in the world. But even with 10 appointments scheduled with companies of all sizes, representing sectors such as component manufacturing and testing services, the visit marked baby steps for attracting aerospace industry investment in Columbus.

“This is going to be a long sell,” Lienhoop said, adding that it could take several years for the city’s pursuit of aerospace investment to bear fruit.

The challenge, Hester said, is that Columbus is an unknown commodity to companies in the aerospace industry.

Selling the city is a step-by-step pitch that first involves making companies understand the benefits of operating in the Midwest and Indiana — such as the presence of other big-name aerospace players in the region — and then the south-central part of the state and particularly Columbus, Hester said.

The city does have credibility because of its manufacturing history and the fact that it has the highest concentration of mechanical engineers in the nation, but a lot of work lies ahead, the mayor said.

“Persistence will be required, and we simply don’t know how long we will have to be persistent,” Lienhoop said.

Reason for optimism

At the Engine Expo, the Columbus contingent had eight pre-arranged meetings with companies in the automotive industry, and also made some cold calls. The city’s economic development focus is on companies involved with testing, components and automotive interiors, Hester said.

“We came away with some leads that companies said they would be doing something within a couple of years. We’ll do what we can to bring them here,” Hester said.

The U.S. version of the Engine Expo, Oct. 24 to 26 in Novi, Michigan, will provide opportunities to follow up with companies after Stuttgart, and sell the city to other companies, he said.

Columbus will have a booth at the Engine Expo, which will help in explaining the opportunities that exist in Columbus, Hester said.

The booth is possible, Hester said, because of the city’s additional financial support of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp.

An additional $136,000 in Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) funds are being added to the city’s $14,000 annual dues to the economic development corporation to provide $150,000 in support annually through 2018.

European economic development trip highlights

Here are highlights of an economic development mission to France and Germany by Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop and Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp. The France portion included participation with a Gov. Eric Holcomb-led Indiana delegation.

June 18: International Paris Air Show. Delegation met with executive and representatives of the Aerospace Industries Association.

June 19: Indiana delegation presented its exhibit at the Paris Air Show and also met with executives of GE Aviation and Faurecia.

June 20: Met with prospective French companies.

June 20-22: Attend Engine Expo in Stuttgart, Germany.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.