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East Central Indiana Drives Boldly Into the Future

Region powers the automotive industry through parts production and innovation.

By Bill Lewis on July 27, 2021

Jeff Adkins

An exhibit of vintage cars at a museum in Connersville tells the story of East Central Indiana’s automotive legacy, and that history is still being written today. Companies across the region are continually exploring new technologies that are transforming the industry.

The exhibit at the Fayette County Historical Museum pays homage to nameplates built there in the early 20th century, including Cord, Auburn, Duesenberg, Checker Cab, Ansted, Empire, Lexington and McFarlan. Those companies left and were replaced by Ford, Chrysler and General Motors (GM), which, in their heyday, employed thousands of people before ceasing operations in the region.

Today, East Central Indiana is home to companies with a smaller employment footprint but that have the potential of participating in big changes in the transportation industry.

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Company Finds the Heart of the Midwest

Parent company Leclanché SA is a world-leading provider of high-quality energy storage solutions based on lithium-ion cell technology.

Anderson is the perfect spot for Leclanché, says Thom Reddington, senior vice president of the company’s North American operations.

“Leclanché’s location is in the heart of the Midwest and crossroads for North America. Based on a strong automotive manufacturing pedigree, this location is rich with both transportation and battery experience in engineering, manufacturing, and research and development,” he says.

The company’s North America e-Transport Business Unit builds rail, ground and marine transportation products, such as battery packs, charging stations and electric drive systems. The Stationary Business Unit builds grid-scale renewable projects worldwide that involve solar, wind, hydro, gensets and battery storage.

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Eco Vehicle Systems

Innovation Means No Gasoline Required

Union City-based ECO Vehicle Systems is a leader in alternative fuel system design and the conversion of existing vehicles. It has received certifications from Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler.

ECO’s conversions allow vehicles to use natural gas, propane, hydrogen fuel cells and hybrid electric systems as well as hydraulic hybrid regenerative braking drive systems, which store braking energy and use it to help power the vehicle.

In Anderson, Altairnano is developing and commercializing superior battery technologies. Altairnano’s technology helps commercial hybrid electric and electric vehicles reduce emissions, safeguard public health and achieve market-leading power performance.

Large vehicles can operate in “diesel-off mode,” “electrically idle,” using battery power instead of diesel, and perform in fully loaded operations.

The result is a significant, profit-improving impact on fuel consumption, emissions, noise pollution and maintenance costs, the company says.

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Job-Ready Workforce in East Central Indiana

The Big Three auto manufacturers departed over a period of years, but the auto industry continues to have a presence in the region. Stant Corp., which supplies components to the major manufacturers, has its global headquarters in Connersville. Keener Corp., Fayette Tool & Engineering Inc. and other employers supply the industry and create jobs.

“We do not have a crystal ball for Fayette County’s manufacturing future; however, we do have the talent, the desire and a strong history of manufacturing success to bank on. Fayette County is ready for the future. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, our grandchildren will be reading about the next big thing to propel us to even greater heights,” says Dan Parker, executive director of the Economic Development Group of Connersville and Fayette County.

East Central Indiana has seen new investment in automotive, plastics and other sectors, such as the growing food processing industry, says Rob Sparks, executive director of the Anderson–Madison County Corporation for Economic Development.

“Our ability to meet sizable utility requirements and rail services within our industrial sites has helped us with several ‘wins,’ largely due to investments made decades before,” he says.

Poised for Growth in Anderson, IN

Industries investing in Anderson will find several greenfield business parks, a makerspace, a business incubator, and a small business SBA loan program, not to mention education and training options.

These include schools like Purdue Polytechnic Anderson, Anderson University and Ivy Tech, and vocational training at Anderson High School D26 and the Hinds Career Center in Elwood. Plus, the City of Anderson’s Advanced Manufacturing Program was created in 2019 as another job training opportunity.

“The communities that can supply a growing and well-trained workforce will see exponential growth in the years to come,” Sparks says. “I believe Madison County is going to do just that.”

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