Truck & Wheel Group: Alabama Welcomes Europe’s Auto Supply Powerhouse

Since Henry Ford rolled out the Model T in 1908, automobile manufacturing has been a notorious mainstay of American industry, symbolizing the nation’s hardworking attitude and innovative spirit. Until recent years, the industry provided stable jobs that supported entire communities, allowing blue collar workers to provide for their families and creating thriving local economies. When many companies decided to outsource to cut costs, American jobs suffered, as is evidenced by the virtual collapse of cities like Detroit, Michigan, which were once burgeoning manufacturing centers. Despite its overall rebound from the recession, Donald Grimes, an economist with the University of Michigan, said that Michigan might never recover from the devastation caused by the implosion of the domestic auto industry. Michigan lost jobs for 10 years in a row, transforming a once booming state into a ghost town known for poverty and crime. “That was a permanent adjustment of the auto industry to the loss of its monopoly power,” Grimes said of 2001-10. “We’ll never get back to where we were in the year 2000.”

Other parts of the United States have since begun to view Detroit as a cautionary tale, and automobile manufacturers have begun to shift back towards domestic manufacturing. Perhaps ironically, one of the newest entrants to this industry is bringing in-demand domestic auto manufacturing jobs to Alabama from overseas. Truck & Wheel Group, a subsidiary of a Spanish company of the same name, was recently established in Alabama under an E-2 investment visa. Truck & Wheel Group already has offices and factory locations in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Mexico. In June 2018, it opened its first U.S. location in Vance, Alabama, where it operates a $35.2 million, 127,000 square foot manufacturing facility that provides 74 valuable local jobs.

Alabama’s Immigration Gap

Alabama has a long history of tense relationships with the immigrant community. After several years of suffering economic and political fallout caused by the controversial H.B. 56, one of the nation’s most restrictive immigration laws, the state now finds itself in a tough spot. Although the law was intended to quell illegal immigration, it created a culture of fear for all immigrants, making the state seem hostile to potential foreign investors and immigrant entrepreneurs, like Truck & Wheel Group’s leadership team. When H.B. 56 took effect, immigrants, who statistically create twice as many jobs as native-born citizen and employ about one in ten Americans, began to take their business elsewhere, causing Alabama’s growth to stagnate while more immigrant-friendly nearby states thrived.

Gaining Local Support

Alabama communities have begun to take notice, and despite Trump administration regulations, have begun to help entrepreneurs and investors enter the U.S. market via tax benefits and other forms of aid. Truck & Wheel Group received this treatment from Vance, Alabama, where unemployment is high at 6.6% compared to the U.S. average of 4%. Carlos Llonis, the CEO of Truck & Wheel Group, has expressed his gratitude towards Alabama’s people, saying, “We have a factory with state-of-the-art technology, robotics, artificial vision, etc. but we have come as far as we have thanks to people. We have received faultless support from the government of Alabama through authorities and different institutions such as the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) and A.I.D.T. They value foreign investment and take an interest in companies that want to proactively establish themselves in their territory. We have felt very welcomed by the municipal government and people of the town of Vance and by the local media, which promote our company and are committed to it.”

Vance, Alabama recognizes the value of foreign entrepreneurs who create jobs and revive struggling communities. Vance Mayor, Keith Mahaffey, is excited by the opportunities the new plant offers his city, and said, “The automotive industry continues to be a great economic driver by adding more industry and jobs for not only our citizens, but for this area as a whole.” Truck & Wheel Group chose Alabama carefully, as new research shows it is the third-largest automobile exporter in the U.S. “What we’re doing, and the way we’re doing it, is working,” Governor Kay Ivey said, in reference to Truck & Wheel Group’s opening. “And as a result, the people of Alabama are working.”

Environmentally Responsible, Socially Conscious Manufacturing

Not only is the company bolstering jobs and the local auto manufacturing industry; it is doing so in style, with the good of Vance, Alabama as a community in mind. The new factory features state-of-the-art equipment, and uses cloud-based RFID on its platforms, making tracking the parts it manufactures a breeze. Truck & Wheel uses a cutting-edge system called TWMS (Truck & Wheel Warehouse Management System). This system is based on the “zero errors” principle. This principle utilizes several technologies to track the presence and movement of people and items through a facility, providing total reliability in all warehouse processes. The company is devoted to sustainability, a relative rarity in manufacturing, an industry which is typically a major source of environment-damaging pollution and waste. All warehouse processes are performed under the “zero paper” policy using the Pick by Light and Put to Light systems, voice picking, RFID, and other waste-reduction systems. Truck & Wheel Group has ISO 14001 certification, proving its commitment to and ability to implement an environmental management system that encourages the “efficient and responsible use of available resources.”

A Great Place to Work

Adding jobs to a struggling market does not mean much if they are not jobs locals want. The United States does, after all, have an overall job surplus due, in part, to recent restrictions on H-1B visas, but many of these jobs don’t appeal to Americans who prefer not to do strenuous physical work. Truck & Wheel Group attracts dedicated local employees by creating a workplace that workers are proud to call their own. The company operates on policies based on “trust, transparency, ethics, and integrity,” and strives to make sure that each person within the organization feels valued, both for their hard work and as individuals. It does this by supporting its employees’ personal and professional development via extensive training programs in each of its facilities. The company is OHSAS 18001 certified, meaning it can prove it has health and safety standards in place to protect its employees.

An Example for Aspiring E-2 Visa Applicants

The E-2 treaty investor visa is a fantastic option for companies and investors seeking to live and work in the United States. It is a flexible, non-immigrant visa that allows holders to live and operate their business with relative freedom, while also allowing their families to reside in the U.S., work, and attend school. The visa must be renewed every few years, but as long as the business continues to meet requirements, it can be renewed indefinitely. Like all E-2 visa applicants, Truck & Wheel Group’s CEO was required to submit a comprehensive immigration business plan as part of its visa application. JDC Consultancy is proud to have written the company’s E-2 business plan and is thrilled to see how the company has succeeded in its mission to operate successfully in Vance, Alabama, while also providing numerous jobs that enrich the local community. The President and CEO of the neighboring Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Jason Hoff, called Truck & Wheel Group’s new plant the “future of the industry… dynamic, changing, and challenging;” a tremendous compliment for any foreign company and entrepreneur seeking to truly make it in the U.S.