The Herald Bulletin

Midday Update

Local Business

March 13, 2013

High gear

Truck body maker moving to Elwood, adding 150 jobs

ELWOOD, Ind. — After years of spinning its wheels, Elwood’s jobs market is gaining ground.

Noblesville-based Warner Bodies has announced it will relocate its manufacturing facility to Elwood, bringing 150 new jobs and investing over $3 million for development over the next few years. Warner manufactures custom components for sales and service vehicles, such as ambulances and crane trucks.

The jobs announcement is the city’s biggest since 1987, when it landed automotive component manufacturer, ELSA, LLC.

“We’ve had lots of losses over the years and this is our first big gain,” Mayor Ron Arnold said. “This is a big deal.”

Arnold, Economic Development Director Bill Savage, President of the Elwood Redevelopment Commission Tom Austin and Warner Bodies President Rick Manasek signed an agreement in the mayor’s office Wednesday afternoon.

“We like the town environment here,” said Manasek, adding Elwood might be “one of Indiana’s best-kept secrets.”

The company will move to the old Plastech Decorating Systems building along Indiana 37, which has been vacant since shortly after the bankrupt company closed in 2008. The Elwood Redevelopment Commission, which owned the property since May 2012, had it listed for sale for about $2.6 million.

The building needs a lot of work — including restored power and repairs to parts of the roof damaged by fire — but Manasek said he expects it to be operational by this time next year.  

Manasek said both the Noblesville plant and its equipment are dated, and the new facility will be a “modern manufacturing plant that’s going to better compete in our industry.”

As it ramps up production and sales in Elwood, Warner will phase out its operations at the old plant, including transferring many of its 52 current employees.

The 150 new jobs will range from entry-level, earning $12 per hour, and engineering, which could earn up to $70,000 a year.

Warner will start screening applications within the next six months.

Jim Pearson, who directs career-technical and adult education at Elwood’s John H. Hinds Career Center, said that’s good news for graduating high school students, who too often are given a diploma and directions to the nearest town with a “help wanted” sign.

“They have to leave the community to find good employment,” Pearson said. “This is an opportunity for them to stay right here.”

For example, take Frankton High School junior Alexys Rastetter, one of the few women in Hinds teacher Shannon Carson’s computer-integrated manufacturing.

“This gives me hope,” Rastetter said, over the mechanical roar of lathes and other manufacturing equipment. “If they’re hiring, I’m definitely applying.”

Manasek said students like Rastetter were a big draw, indicating a young, work-ready labor pool with experience in welding, manufacturing and metal working.

Elwood Community School Corp. interim superintendent Tom Austin, who also heads the Elwood Redevelopment Commission, said the school board “is 100 percent behind” helping Warner get established in the community.

Find Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.

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