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The KITT of Connersville: How Carbon Motors Decided to Build Police Cars in Indiana

It may take a village to raise a child, but it took the rallying cry of an entire town–and a no-cost, 1.8-million-square-foot building–to convince Carbon Motors to locate its manufacturing facility to Connersville, Indiana.

The KITT of Connersville: How Carbon Motors Decided to Build Police Cars in Indiana

It may take a village to raise a child, but it took the rallying cry of an entire town–and a no-cost, 1.8-million-square-foot building–to convince Carbon Motors to locate its manufacturing facility to Connersville, Indiana. Carbon Motors makes the E7 law enforcement vehicle, a futuristic cop-cruiser that includes radiation and biological threat detectors, an automatic license plate recognition system, and a diesel engine that gets up to 30 miles per gallon and has a top speed of 155 miles an hour. The company already has 10,000 orders.

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carbon motors factory

Back in May, Connersville–home to just over 14,000 people–threw a huge celebration to show their support of Carbon Motors, which was shopping around for industrial sites. They started with a proclamation by Mayor Leonard E. Urban declaring May 5 “Carbon Motors Day.” That was followed with a parade along flag-lined streets, lawns bedecked with yard signs, and multiple billboards. A boys choir provided accompaniment. Over 7,300 people, many sporting special-edition Carbon Motors T-shirts, turned out to eat, drink and make merry with their potential investor, which is promising to invest $350 million in the plant.

carbon motors t-shirt

William Santana Li, Carbon Motors chairman and chief executive officer, publicly expressed his gratitude for the show of support, and everyone went back to their respective boardrooms to hammer out the details of site selection. Indiana had some competition, namely upstate South Carolina and Georgia, both in close proximity to the Atlanta-based homeland security company. Stacy Stephens, Carbon Motors co-founder and sales development manager explained, “We had a huge matrix with 400 items that needed to be checked off,” before making the final decision.

jobs rally

On Wednesday, in anticipation of Carbon Motors stopping in Indiana, Connersville whipped itself into an enthusiastic frenzy again. This time, said Blair West, director of Media Relations for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC), there were “cheerleaders leading cheers just for Carbon Motors, a high school marching band, other bands, the chief of police leading prayers, and the mayor.” She also noted that several thousand people had donned the custom T-shirts, as well as buttons emblazoned with the Carbon Motors logo.

The event was originally billed as the American Jobs Rally. Stephens said they anticipated a crowd, “But we didn’t think they’d do it again. And they did. They did it bigger,” he said. So despite the fact that the ink had not quite dried on the final agreement, Santana Li made the announcement that the entire town had been waiting months to hear: Carbon Motors picked Connersville.

carbon motors mayor

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It is fitting that the statement was made at the shuttered Visteon plant that had been standing empty since 2007, according to West. The major manufacturer of HVAC equipment to the auto industry, which was formerly owned by Ford, had employed over 800 people locally. The company declared Chapter 11 in May. It will cost as much as $4 million to get rid of the pollution the previous owner left behind. “These are minor details we know will get worked out,” said Stephens.

Time was of the essence. West said Carbon Motors wants to jump on the opportunity to effectively compete for $250 million in funding from the federal government’s Advanced Technology Vehicles program, and couldn’t do it without having named a site first.

West said this was the shot in the arm the entire region needed. People came from as far as Cincinnati to rally. West talked to a former Visteon employee from Ohio looking to get back in business. The manufacturing facility is expected to create 1,500 new jobs by the time production starts in 2012. That’s good news for a county whose unemployment rate is hovering in the double digits.

After making the announcement Santana Li said he hoped the White House was paying attention. Over steady shouts from the crowd he said, “There’s a few thousand people here in Connersville that just declared the official turnaround of the United States of America. And that turnaround has 300 horsepower and goes 155 mph, and it is built right here in Connersville.”

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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