A Japanese supplier of auto parts to the likes of Honda and Nissan in the Southeast U.S. is set to embark on its sixth expansion over two decades in Rome, Ga.
The latest expansion from F&P Georgia isn’t the flashiest — it is to create 15 jobs on $22.8 million in investment, much of which will go toward a massive new stamping press and robotic equipment — but it represents a story of how a solid international investment can develop into a transformative one with the right care over time.
The company, one of five locations under the North American arm of F-Tech Inc., opened its Rome plant in 2001, its initial investment employing 70 people making sub frames, suspension parts and pedal assemblies.
Now F&P employs more than 400 people thanks to a gradual expansion, the latest coming in 2012 when the company invested another $31 million.
Rome Floyd Chamber of Commerce President Jeanne Krueger told Global Atlanta that Rome is no different than other communities in that most new local jobs are created when companies grow their existing footprints rather than setting up new plants.
For that reason, she said, the chamber has placed a particular focus on its Greater Rome Existing Industries Association, or GREIA, a council of companies that meets monthly to trade insights and best practices.
“We really listen to what their needs are,” Ms. Krueger said, noting that the chamber is there not to impose an agenda but to address challenges. “It’s their meeting. They talk about things that are relevant to them.”
The biggest items on the docket these days, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, are workforce and infrastructure, areas where Rome sees itself as having core advantages: The northwest Georgia community is home to four colleges and sits close to interstates and a new inland port that has helped lure manufacturing investment.
“When you can get your goods all over the world in a faster and perhaps more economical way, that’s a good thing,” Ms. Krueger said.
For its part, F&P credited the community for a strong partnership as it reportedly prepares to make front and rear subframes for a new original equipment manufacturer, perhaps the joint Toyota-Mazda plant in Huntsville, Ala., that is set to begin production next year.
“Rome and Floyd County have been a great home for F&P. We are proud to continue to grow our business here. We are also very thankful for the support of the people, government and Development Authority of Rome and Floyd County,” said F&P Senior Manager Nat Massey said in a statement from the Rome-Floyd County Industrial Development Authority.
Al Hodge, the Rome-Floyd Chamber CEO at the time of the investment, recalls being approached via phone by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, which had given the project the code name “Trojan Horse.”
Unlike in the myth, Mr. Hodge was told there was “something good in the belly of that horse, because this one has the potential to for expansion at least once, if not twice,” he told Global Atlanta. The reality has proven even more beneficial.
Mr. Hodge, now serving as the chair of the Japan-America Society of Georgia as he continues to build his own economic development consultancy, has maintained ties with Yuichi Fukuda, who led the expansion into Rome and eventually ascended the ranks to president and CEO of F-Tech, the family-owned parent company. Mr. Hodge met with him last May in Japan during a Japan Foundation-backed exchange trip. Founded in the 1950s, Ftech Inc. is based in Japan’s Saitama prefecture.
Rome and Floyd County are also home to all-terrain vehicle manufacturer Suzuki Manufacturing of America Corp. and Neaton Auto Products Manufacturing Inc., a subsidiary of Nihon Plast Co. Ltd. that makes interior trim products for the automotive sector.
Each has expanded at least once since their initial investment.