Representatives of Futaba Indiana of America, a major Knox County employer, appeared before the county council Tuesday seeking support for an investment into the plant over the next few years — an expansion that will likely create more jobs.
FIA financial consultant Tim Cook requested from the council a tax abatement of personal property over 10 years for additional investments of approximately $31 million the Japanese-based company plans to pursue over the next four years.
In 2013, Cook made a similar request when FIA, an automotive parts supplier primarily serving Toyota plants throughout the country, was expanding to add new production equipment ahead of a new line coming to the plant.
FIA plant manager Dave Turpin explained to the council that the request and investment are again being driven by Toyota's plans. For example, the Avalon and Lexus ES are going to undergo some major changes, he said, and looking ahead to 2019, the Highlander, which is produced at the Princeton plant, will undergo a major model change, too.
With all those changes in the works, FIA will be looking to invest millions into new welding equipment and stamping dyes, Turpin said.
Cook stressed to the council that FIA's abatement request, just like the request made in 2013, does not indicate or make any promises regarding job creation that might stem from the investment.
But judging by how much the company has grown over its nearly 15-year history here in Knox County, job creation is a very real possibility, he said.
“We certainly anticipate that there is going to be job creation over the next couple years,” Cook said.
Construction of the plant began in 2001 with operations beginning the following year. Back then, FIA started with 70 employees; they're now up to around 800. The plant was originally about 117,000 square feet; now it's roughly 460,000 square feet.
Fifty-five percent of FIA's 800 employees, Turpin said, live in Knox County.
“That's a great sign that we're able to pull good team members from this area and we hope to continue to do so,” Turpin said.
While council voted unanimously to approve a resolution that sets up the potential to allow for the tax abatement, council president Bob Lechner noted that there will be a public hearing right at the start of the council's next meeting, at 5 p.m. April 11 in the Vincennes Fortnightly Clubhouse, 421 N. Sixth St., on the tax abatement itself before an actually vote on the abatement is taken.
He added that despite the tax abatement, FIA would still be paying property taxes on their new investment.
The council also pledged support to the Knox County Development Corp. as the agency seeks to boost the county's broadband network, paving the way for better internet service and speed countywide.
KCDC is pursuing federal grant assistance, president Kent Utt said, to look into the possibility of constructing a high-speed broadband network, something that the organization has been talking about for months.
Support from the county council, Utt said, will make their grant application “even stronger.”
Widening the availability of high-speed internet service was identified as a top priority during KCDC's strategic plan that was completed last year. Community leaders again and again have said the lack of internet service in rural portions of the county is a problem and makes it difficult to attract businesses and people.