With new German companies pouring into Georgia seemingly every week, it might be easily taken for granted that the state has always been the place to be for European investment.
But some firms came early on in its international development, before the automotive industry had migrated more substantially to the South, drawing juggernauts like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
ZF was one of those pioneers of German investment, opening a manual transmission plant in the North Georgia city of Gainesville in 1987.
That initial presence has mushroomed into four facilities — two in Gainesville and two in Oakwood — employing more than 1,000 people in Hall County. ZF now owns Kelsey-Hayes Co., a braking systems manufacturer with a presence in Oakwood, after its 2015 acquisition of U.S. rival TRW Automotive.
And in 2011, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was in Gainesville to inaugurate a new $100 million factory producing gear boxes for wind turbines, massive parts weighing 16 tons and transported one per semi-truck. The plant was ZF’s first in the U.S. for that line of business, planning at the time to expand to about 250 workers.
Thirty years after its initial investment, the company retains 14 of its original 88 Gainesville employees and now has 28 nationalities represented on its manufacturing team, with at least one having moved up to Georgia from one of six plants in Mexico.
The progression illustrates what economic development leaders often say: Winning new greenfield investment is only the beginning; most new jobs come from taking care of existing companies and helping them expand.
Last month, Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan and Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs led a group of city and county leaders to the ZF facility to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary in Hall County.
Sept. 23 was named “ZF Day” through a joint declaration of the Oakwood, Gainesville and Hall County governments in honor of the company’s longstanding investment. Learn more here.
Read more about how Hall County has targeted German companies over the years: Hall County: A Magnet for Expanding German Firms
Watch a Global Atlanta video on ZF Wind below: