One of the largest railcar producers in the world is subleasing a portion of Navistar Corp.’s Barton plant with plans to build up to 7,000 cars annually.
FreightCar America officials said today they hope to begin production in July and have 200 workers on site by the end of the year. They expect to employ 400 people at the plant by the end of 2014, said Terry Heidkamp, senior vice president of operations for FreightCar.
“This is a win for all involved, FreightCar America, Navistar and the community,” Heidkamp said. “It also is a win for FreightCar to be able to produce these cars in a competitive way.”
As part of the arrangement that allows FreightCar to use two of the plant’s four assembly lines, the two companies are forming a partnership. Navistar will assist in maintenance and production of the railcars.
Navistar leased the nearly mile-long plant from National Alabama in September 2011. The company announced last year it would build a new truck at the facility, but plans have been put on hold.
Officials with the Shoals Economic Development Authority and Shoals Industrial Development Committee met this afternoon and agreed to allow Navistar to count jobs related to FreightCar’s operation toward a local incentive package. Local governments will pay Navistar $7.67 million in incentives when 900 people are working at the plant.
Additional incentives are available if other employment benchmarks are met.
FreightCar has headquarters in Chicago and operates manufacturing facilities in Danville, Ill., and Roanoke, Va.
FreightCar officials said they will begin the hiring process Wednesday morning, with hopes of having workers trained and working on site in May.
Navistar officials say 180 people are working at the plant now.
Heidkamp said the company will produce a variety of railcars at Barton. FreightCar has specialized in coal cars, but Heidkamp said the Navistar plant offers flexibility that fits into his company’s plan to produce railcars for numerous purposes.
“We can carry flatcars, intermodal cars ... and other types,” Heidkamp said.
The plant in the Barton Riverfront Industrial Park was built in 2007 by Canadian-based National Steel Car. The company struggled financially because of a downturn in the railcar industry, and the Retirement Systems of Alabama stepped in to take over operations at what became known as National Alabama.