“To see the economic stimulus growth and the overall impact Honda has had on the economy has just been overwhelming,” said Williams, a team manager at the plant.
Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln began production of the 2014 Acura MDX luxury SUV Thursday, adding to the three models already produced there. The new vehicle means hundreds more jobs and further economic stability for the area. But to companies that might want to locate in Alabama, it's a signal that industry can thrive and grow in the state, government leaders and economic development experts say.
More than 1,000 white-uniformed Honda employees took a break Thursday morning to gather together and witness the first 2014 Acura MDX roll off the plant assembly line. The facility is now the exclusive global producer of the MDX, one of Honda's top-selling products. The plant was already the sole producer of the Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and Ridgeline pickup truck. The MDX was previously manufactured at a Honda plant in Canada.
Tom Shoupe, president of HMA, said the 2014 MDX will arrive at dealerships in the next few weeks and the plant is expected to produce between 30,000 and 40,000 of the luxury SUVs this year.
"It's been extraordinarily challenging," Shoupe said of the plant's efforts to prepare for the MDX. "We've never produced any big Acura flagship vehicle before."
To Gov. Robert Bentley, the plant getting such an important vehicle just shows how great Alabama's workforce is, which in turn, helps him recruit more industry to the state.
"The reason Alabama is so special is because we have the best workers of any state in the country," said Bentley, who attended the ceremony. "That helps me sell Alabama."
During a phone interview Thursday, Steve Sewell, executive vice president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, which works to attract and maintain industry in the state, said Honda’s trust in Alabama workers to manufacture such an important vehicle only helps the state's efforts to attract business.
"They would not make this move if they did not have a positive experience in the state," Sewell said. "In economic development, that's the best testimonial you can have ... growth and expansion."
Sewell said companies wanting to locate in a state check to see what success other businesses have had there, particularly big recognizable companies like Honda.
"It helps us when we can point to the kind of success Honda has had," Sewell said.
With a 4,000-person strong workforce, the Honda plant has brought significant economic stimulus to the area in the past decade — from workers buying houses and cars to auto suppliers that create additional jobs. The addition of the MDX has only added to the economic stimulus. HMA has been preparing for the new vehicle for more than a year, expanding the facility and hiring more than 400 workers.
In addition to adding more workers to the plant, the new vehicle stimulated growth at an Oxford auto supplier, Bridgewater Interiors. The company recently underwent a $4.3 million expansion and added 87 people to its previous workforce of 250 employees to build parts for the MDX. The company expects to pay out an additional $2.5 million in annual payroll for the 87 hires.
Sewell said the new vehicle at the plant also means economic stability for the area. When HMA first opened, it produced only one vehicle as opposed to the four it makes today, he said.
"We sure like having multiple products here," Sewell said. "It suggests this is an important manufacturing location for Honda in the world ... that means stability in the supply chain."
Shirley Hall, of new-model purchasing for HMA and who oversees 11 auto suppliers, said she hopes the addition of the new vehicle will mean growth for Honda and its suppliers.
"I hope this builds up more opportunities," Hall said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.