Will Electric Carmaker Bring More than Jobs to Elkhart Indiana?

The recession hit Elkhart, Ind., especially hard.  In fact, the town became somewhat of a poster child of the recession, thanks to a news series produced by MSNBC. But a glimmer of hope emerged for Elkhart on Tuesday, when the Norwegian electric carmaker Think said it will open its first American assembly plant there.

The New York Times’ Green Inc blog reports that the Think assembly line should be up and running in early 2011, and its annual production could hit 20,000 cars by 2013. Most importantly for Elkhart, the plant should employ more than 400 workers when it’s fully online.

According to Elkhart Truth, the town’s local paper, Think plans to invest  more than $56 million in the new plant–some of which, will be in the form of a Department of Energy Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan. In the first phase of build up, 100 new jobs are expected and the Elkhart Truth reports that these will pay an average of $16/hour.

But it’s not the news of the new plant, alone, that is making residents there hopeful. Rather, it’s the chance that the Think plant could be the harbinger of a manufacturing revival for Elkhart, which has a legacy as a manufacturing hub for a range of industrial products, recreation vehicles and even musical instruments. In fact, Elkhart’s manufacturing chops is one of the things that attracted Think to the area.

But there’s another important element (outside of the tax incentives that Elkhart offered) that attracted Think to the Indiana: it is the headquarters of EnerDel, parent company of Ener1, Think’s battery supplier, and a 31 percent equity stakeholder in Think. Plus, the proximity to auto parts suppliers throughout Michigan and the rest of the Midwest is another bonus.

Think plans on producing its two-seat electric hatchback, called City (which is already makes in Europe) at the new plant, and to sell it in the United States for about $30,000, after incentives. The car has a range of about 112 miles and the American version of the City will have a top speed of at least 70 miles an hour.

So what’s your take? Will the Midwest emerge as the manufacturing hub of electric transportation? And, if so, will it be able to compete globally?

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.