COOKEVILLE – Ficosa North America has called Crossville home since 2008. Its tenure there, however, is set to sunset next summer as the automotive supplier continues its relocation to a new state-of-the-art facility in Cookeville.
The company, which manufactures exterior mirrors for the likes of Nissan, Ford and Volkswagen, has already begun limited production in Putnam County; construction on its 270,000-square-foot plant in the Highlands Business Park wrapped early in April. But some of its biggest key transition dates are upcoming – as assembly lines, machinery – and people – make the move from the neighboring town.
Plant leaders discussed that timeline exclusively with the UCBJ during a recent tour of the facility.
“On paper, it’s easy; we have a clear road map,” said Antonio Ibañez, Ficosa chief operating officer. “But now, that map becomes just a reference point because at the last minute, everything can change. We have to be very dynamic, because, even with the perfect plan, there’s always something you weren’t expecting. But this is the more exciting part of this business.”
Ficosa is making the move – roughly 35 miles west – for a myriad of reasons, namely, a new facility that allows for increased production capacity and new, state-of-the-art technologies. It was part of a $58 million deal announced last May. The company could staff as many as 900 by the end of 2018, and there’s enough space for a roughly 50,000 square foot addition, which Ibañez is hoping to build within two or three years.
“We’re basically offering a higher quality (product) for our customers,” he said.
Ficosa’s time in the UC dates back eight years, when the Barcelona-based manufacturer acquired Delbar Products, which, ironically, had a presence in Putnam County, too, until the company moved most of its production from Cookeville to Crossville in 2005, per UCBJ archives. Ficosa made headlines again in 2010 when it became first in the UC to secure a contract with Volkswagen Chattanooga.
The company had grown to a four-facility footprint in Crossville. That’s one of the reasons for the move.
“When we acquired that company, we acquired that company how it was, and in this cases, the processes and the equipment,” Ibañez said. “Ficosa has been implementing systems, trying to improve the equipments we received (etc), but that was not enough.”
“Having everything under the same roof helps to create a lot of synergies because you aren’t moving materials between facilities,” he added. “It’s always a complicated decision (to move), and, yes, we had looked other places, including Crossville, but I think Cookeville’s location is one of the keys.”
It’s a decision that’s already seemingly paid off. In late June, Ficosa landed four new rear-view mirror contracts worth $510 million. Three of those orders will be made in Cookeville, and that local production will represent an economic value of $460 million.
That’s in addition to two new lines that company had already planned to add – for VW.
“It was clear, if we kept our business in Crossville, how it was today, we would not have gotten this business,” Ibañez said.
As for Crossville, Ficosa has already closed its finished goods space. Assembly lines will be moved by October and its warehouse component facility closed.
Only the paint shop will remain. It will shutter in June 2017.
And as far as people, all are being offered the opportunity to transfer, but it’s still unclear at this point exactly how many are. Michelle Saunders Wright, human resources director, said they were hopeful a majority would come to Cookeville, but there’s contingencies in place for those who don’t.
“Moving from Crossville to Cookeville is a big move for us,” she said. “Obviously, we want to bring everybody with us –everybody that works for Ficosa has that opportunity – but we do understand that everybody won’t. We’ve gotten very good feedback that a large percentage will move with us. We’re doing everything we can to accommodate those people.”