Groundbreaking celebrates Chinese company’s arrival


GREENFIELD — The white tent jutted into the sky in an otherwise empty field, a bright reminder of good things to come.

One day, this spot will house the largest development Greenfield has seen in at least a decade. And Wednesday, county leaders pulled out all the stops to celebrate.

Inside the tent, state leaders talked about what the arrival of BeijingWest Industries, a Chinese auto-parts manufacturer promising 441 new jobs by 2021, means for Hancock County.

The company in April announced plans to construct its first production facility in the United States in Progress Park in Greenfield. Since then, economic development leaders have been planning an event to kick off the start of construction on the 276,500 square-foot facility that will neighbor Elanco Animal Health’s world headquarters on Innovation Way.

Wednesday’s invitation-only ceremony welcomed more than 150 people, including Gov. Eric Holcomb and several executives from the company’s China headquarters. Buses shuttled guests from the nearby junior high to the construction site, where hors d’oeuvres and desserts waited. Police escorts stopped traffic on Franklin Street for the procession to pass, and 20 officers were dedicated to helping the event go smoothly.

And long before guests arrived, a crew of volunteers did the dirty work. They pitched the tent, leveled uneven patches of gravel, assembled a stage, and arranged tables and chairs, placing a gift bag on each. Set off from the main gathering area, a VIP tent featured sushi and other appetizers.

Skip Kuker has seen countless groundbreakings in his five years as director of the Hancock Economic Development Council.

None like this.

“It’s a big party,” he said. “It’s a celebration of the fact we’ve got so much going on. This is a great company.”

And the fanfare was an honor well-deserved, he said. While there have been other big job announcements in recent years, none has promised to create as many jobs in so short a timeframe as BeijingWest.

Standing at the construction site Tuesday, Kuker said the event wouldn’t be possible without the help and generosity of organizations and businesses across the city.

It cost surprisingly little, given how much was donated — food and decor, for example — to the effort, said Kuker, who didn’t disclose the cost of the event.

Connie Schmidt, the council’s executive assistant, took on the lion’s share of planning Wednesday’s event, Kuker said.

Schmidt joked her job description had changed in recent months. She set aside some of her administrative duties to take on the event-planning.

Any problem or concern that popped up, Schmidt was on top of it, Kuker said.

Transportation marked one of the most obvious challenges. The construction site currently lacks enough parking space to accommodate 150 guests, so Schmidt arranged for guests to meet at Greenfield Central Junior High School.

Guests checked in at the school, provided their names and received a lanyard designating what company they represent. Numbered cards told guests which bus to take.

Schmidt, too, passed on the credit for the event’s success.

For weeks, she’s been trading calls with local business owners, who were eager to take part, she said.

Hancock Regional Hospital provided the appetizers, desserts and drinks, and CGS Services reached out several weeks ago to offer trash services.

Penny’s Florist donated several flower arrangements, even creating some that looked like globes, signifying the global connection Greenfield now has to China, Schmidt said.

Linda Palmer, the office manager at Penny’s Florist, said the business was happy to be part of such an exciting day in the city’s history.

The floral shop is always searching for ways to help the community, and supporting a business that will create so many new jobs seemed like the perfect way to give back, Palmer said.

Greenfield City Councilman Gary McDaniel rushed home from work to get ready for the event, trading a work uniform for a suit and tie. It wasn’t a celebration he wanted to miss, he said.

The company announced its plans to move here a few months ago, but McDaniel is still peppered with questions from residents every day, he said.

They want to know when the company will start hiring, what type of jobs will be available and what impact the business will have on Greenfield’s future industrial development.

He rattles off the answers: hiring will start in November, positions will include manufacturing and administrative jobs. As far as the long-term impact? He can’t wait to find out.

“Everyone is excited,” he said. “We’re going to be on everyone’s radar now.”