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City proclamation honors Shoda as visit caps Heartland activities

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kan Shoda, chairman of Shigeru Industries Ltd. of Ota City, Japan, the parent company of Greencastle's Heartland Automotive, admires a framed copy of a proclamation in his honor presented by Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray. Shoda visited City Hall and Heartland facilities on both Warren Drive and in Lafayette this week before leaving Wednesday to return to Japan.
The first time Kan Shoda came to Greencastle, the Japanese industrialist was intent on finding an American home for his expanding manufacturing business.

While it was readily apparent the sprawling old IBM Corp. building on the city's East Side was far too big for the birth of Heartland Automotive as Shigeru's initial foray into the United States, Shoda and his advisers nonetheless found Greencastle a perfect fit.

As Shoda made his first 2013 visit to Greencastle this week in honor of Heartland's silver anniversary as a local auto components manufacturer, Mayor Sue Murray took time to celebrate the man who made it all possible.

"We wanted to say something formally while you were here," the mayor told Shoda during a 40-minute visit to City Hall.

Flanked by Greencastle Development Center Director Bill Dory and City Council representative Jinsie Bingham, Mayor Murray noted that in 1987, "Shigeru agreed to bring an automotive trim division to Greencastle."

And for the past 25 years, she added, "Heartland Automotive has provided jobs and benefits ... in the beginning to 80 residents of Greencastle and the surrounding area, and today employs 462."

The proclamation goes on to note Heartland's generous contributions over the years, including the 25th anniversary gift of $100,000 (to be used on improvements to the local parks system), before Mayor Murray turned her attention to Shoda himself.

"Chairman Kan Shoda," she read, "shall be named from this day forward, an honorary citizen and special friend to Greencastle."

She concluded the proclamation by stating, "on behalf of the citizens of Greencastle, I congratulate Heartland Automotive and Shigeru on its 25th anniversary and thank you for being a great community partner, but especially for taking a chance on Greencastle."

That chance, Shoda recalled through translation by Heartland business project manager Ritsuko Abrams, came about when the late former Indiana Gov. Robert Orr toured Shigeru operations and made mention of the available IBM plant in Greencastle.

"The IBM building was too big for us," Shoda said as others pointed out the former Ryan Building, which emerged as Heartland, was also available and owned by IBM at the time.

It was less than a third the size of "Big Blue," the IBM facility on Indianapolis Road, and became the American headquarters of Heartland Automotive in 1987.

Visiting Shigeru Industries Chairman Kan Shoda (center), Heartland Automotive President Toshio Kawashima (left) and Heartland business project manager Ritsuko Abrams examine old photos and souvenir programs from a 1989 open house at the Greencastle factory during a visit to City Hall earlier this week.
"We are very glad you made that decision," Mayor Murray responded. "Because of that, people began to hope again and come out of what was really a reactionary time for us."

Initially the promise to a community that had just lost 985 positions with the IBM plant closure was for 100 employees at Heartland's 107,000-square-foot facility off Warren Drive.

"We are sorry our employees have not yet reached 900," Shoda smiled in response to the historical reference to the IBM employment numbers.

Today, after multiple expansions, Heartland employs more than 450 people in a 300,000-square-foot facility that bears little resemblance to the Ryan Building that had been established as Angwell Curtain Factory's new home in the early 1970s.

Not only did Chairman Shoda visit Greencastle after flying in from Japan on Sunday but he also made a special trip to Lafayette to see firsthand the only other Heartland or Shigeru-owned facility in the U.S.

Shigeru has built a new facility in Lafayette with 150 employees to support the Greencastle Heartland plant, which Shoda said is at its production capacity.

The Lafayette facility will provide additional production volume for the SIA plant there, where Subaru has announced it will ramp up manufacturing from 170,000 vehicles to 200,000 by 2014.

Besides Ota City, Greencastle and Lafayette, the company also operates facilities in Thailand and China, Shoda said.

"Oh, good for us," Councilor Bingham responded, "We're happy to have the workforce to create your product."

Mayor Murray agreed. "We are so very happy for your employees we have here."

Joining Shoda at City Hall were Abrams, Heartland President Toshio Kawashima and former Heartland President Terry Takezawa.

Shoda, through his translator, also explained how he had hoped to visit Greencastle earlier in the 25-year celebration process.

However, he was actively involved in the winning political campaign of an associate back in Ota City, a town of 220,000 founded in 1947 (a sharp contrast to Greencastle and its 10,326 residents in a city founded in 1849).

Shoda also heads the Ota City Chamber of Commerce and is a member the national Chamber of Commerce in Japan in addition to serving as chairman of Shigeru.

After the proclamation was read and a framed copy presented to Shoda, the Japanese contingent presented gifts, as is the culture's custom.

"We are always delighted when we see people from Heartland," Mayor Murray told Shoda and his associates. "Please know you can come back often."

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