LAURENS, S.C.—Fukoku America's goal is to become a Tier 1 automotive supplier, and the rubber product maker may well be on its way to achieving just that.
The firm has secured new business from several customers and in 2018 will directly supply Honda rubber-produced supply pulley seals, marking its first venture into Tier 1 territory.
In response to this and other new projects, Fukoku is adding 30 new machines and 65 jobs through 2019, representing a $13.9 million investment at its U.S. manufacturing hub in Laurens. Currently the firm employs 140 people at the 105,900-sq.-ft. facility that opened in 2001.
A variety of South Carolina officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Laurens Mayor John Stankus, expressed their pleasure with Fukoku's decision to expand its site in a statement released by the South Carolina Department of Commerce. The DOC's release said Fukoku already has begun hiring for the newly created positions.
"Our quality, delivery and customer satisfaction have been keys to our success," said Edwin Kershaw, senior manager of human resources for the Laurens plant.
"Our goal is always to try to get more business and we were awarded this business from Honda. They happen to want us to supply them as a Tier 1 supplier, which is the only Tier 1 business that we have right now."
Currently, Fukoku is a Tier 2 supplier that provides a variety of rubber parts to Tier 1 suppliers such as Nissan, JTekt, Nexteer and Denso, among others. Products at the Laurens facility include break booster diaphragms, radiator seals, rack and pinion boots, constant velocity joint boots and pulley seals.
Kershaw said the expansion will focus mainly on increased demand for its CV joint boots, but it's also experienced growth in its rack and pinion boot product line in addition to the new Honda business.
"We at Fukoku America are proud to have been part of the Laurens County Industrial Community for the past 15 years," Executive Vice President Masahiko Tsubota said in a statement.
"We have had a great relationship with the City and County of Laurens, as well as the State of South Carolina. With this expansion, we look forward to continuing our industrial partnership with the Laurens County business community for many years to come."
Fukoku America is the U.S. subsidiary of Fukoku Co. Ltd. based in Ageo, Japan. The firm has 13 locations worldwide, including Japan, China, South Korea, Czech Republic, Brazil and Mexico. Kershaw said the Mexican facility is about one year old, focusing on similar products as the U.S. site.
The firm's largest business is wiper blades, but Kershaw said that product is made at Fukoku's other global locations.