Mayor has taste of India

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Walker, Industrial Foundation officials meet with roughly three dozen companies during recruiting visit

After 10 days in India, Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker joked he wanted to “kiss the ground” when he returned home Wednesday.

But he described the trip as richly rewarding because he had a taste of a new culture, visited 1,000-year-old temples and met an endless array of hospitable hosts.

Most importantly, the trip allowed Walker the rare opportunity to plant the name of his city on the tongues of roughly three dozen companies that may be looking to expand their enterprises into the United States.

Walker discussed the industry recruiting trip with members of The News-Enterprise editorial board Thursday and said groups and industries he encountered were impressed by his willingness to travel such a long distance to meet with them personally and explain why they should give Elizabethtown a chance.

“We reached out to a lot of people and feel very, very good,” he said. “We planted that seed.”

Walker was accompanied by Rick Games and Greg Jenkins, president and chairman of the board of the Elizabethtown-Hardin County Industrial Foundation, respectively.

Games said a lot more people are talking and thinking about Elizabethtown and Kentucky after the trip.

After losing nine and a half hours during travel, they arrived in India on a Monday and went to work the next morning, visiting several cities and meeting with about 36 Indian companies representing industries such as information technology, industrial production, automotive and packaging. Walker said he could not reveal the names of any of the companies he met with, but he was receiving follow-up emails from several wanting to know more about the city before he departed the country.

With Flex Films set to start production in the first phase of its manufacturing facility on Black Branch Road later this year, he said it would be advantageous for the city to attract interrelated companies so Flex Films could purchase products from suppliers in the city.

Uflex, parent company of Flex Films, invited Elizabethtown officials to visit India and helped secure the industry meetings. Walker said many companies hold a perception that the cost is too high and regulations too stringent to build a manufacturing facility in the U.S. This belief is built on hearsay rather than hard evidence, Walker said, and Uflex helped squelch these concerns by relaying its own experiences within Kentucky and Elizabethtown.

“We have a partner in Flex in India,” Games said, echoing the mayor. “They are our biggest cheerleader to this point.”

Gov. Steve Beshear was traveling through the country on a recruiting trip of his own and sat in on several meetings with Walker. While the mayor recognized Beshear was there to promote the state, he emphasized the city’s willingness and flexibility to work with Indian companies and its desire to open its borders to new industry.

“Here we are,” Walker said. “We’re available.”

Walker said they used acquisition of a Toyota plant in Georgetown as an example when making their case and noted the city’s own diverse base of international industries from Japan and Mexico. Walker also said the city’s geographical location and access to interstate highways is an attractive bonus.

The mayor met with economic development groups and organizations he equated to chambers of commerce. He also met the Mexican ambassador, who was impressed with the city’s promotion of Metalsa.

And Walker got a taste of the rich history and culture of India, moved by its people’s unshakeable work ethic and strong family values.

“Their culture is really not a lot different than ours,” he said.

Those he met were family oriented, and it was not uncommon to meet households where three generations resided.

Walker said the bond with Flex Films, meanwhile, has grown stronger. The packaging manufacturer was impressed by the acuity and professionalism of the local workforce they have put in place to run the facility, he said, and the company has options on additional parcels of land to potentially build more production lines should expansion be desired.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.