Several factors come into play when a company is looking for a place to build a plant, especially if the location is not within the company’s home country.
So when Mubea, a family owner-operated company founded in Attendorn, Germany in 1916, decided to build a plant in the United States, the Cincinnati German community across the Ohio River from the potential site in Florence, Kentucky, was one of the influencing factors in the site selection.
The Greater Cincinnati area is one of the most German metropolitan areas in America. So German, in fact, that it has a neighborhood called Over-the-Rhine, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Miami and Erie Canal, which at one time separated the German community from downtown Cincinnati.
“It was a combination of factors, ” says Doug Cain, CEO of Mubea’s Florence facility, ” which designs and manufactures automobile components.
According to Cain, another factor was the “the logistic situation, the central location, the way the roads run north and south, east and west, through here.
“Then there was the topography, because our headquarters is in Attendorn, Germany and the topography is similar, they felt at home, a lot of rolling hills, a lot of green, and for sure, the German component. Cincinnati at the time had one of the largest German populations of any city outside of Europe, so there was a lot of heritage with that. So it was a combination of those factors.
“And we have been very happy here. We have been here for 32 years. We continue to invest very heavily here, more than $240 million since 2009 here in Northern Kentucky, and are in the process of adding an additional $60 million investment in the expansion of our flexible rolling facility.”
Mubea has 36 production, development and sales locations on four continents with more than 13, 000 employees worldwide. Mubea North America has 2, 200 employees with 1, 400 employees in Florence at seven facilities.
Mubea first came to the United States to build vehicle parts for a proposed Volkswagen plant that never materialized.
Cain says the company name comes from a combination of Bender and Muhr, the two founding families. The Muhr family now owns the company, Cain says. “I work for Thomas Muhr and the other family that was with the company when it began was Bender so it was known as Muhr and Bender.”
Cain says he thinks Mubea is short for Muhr and Bender America — MuBeA. While the company is German, the work force, Cain says, is “vastly American if you are talking about here in Northern Kentucky. We’ve got about 1, 400 people here, so we are one of the largest employers in Northern Kentucky and one of the largest manufacturing employers in the tri-state region.”
Cain adds, “We have some people who came over here and have stayed. I have a couple of people on my staff who are technically German but they have lived here for years.”
Cain says the percentage of the work force that is German “would not be more than 3 percent.”
That said, there is a large German influence on the Florence facility.
“We do home and away training, for sure, because of our methodology. We are a very highly technical company and are very advanced in our engineering and our product design and even in our manufacturing, because we focus on lightweight applications. We are the world leader in all of the products that we produce. We are the leader in North America as far as market share and volume. The reason we have been successful and will continue to grow is the focus on lightweight and high performance.”
Cain says the company works closely companies such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes on engineering design and advancements, which includes the continued push for more fuel efficiency and plays a major role in Mubea’s business strategy.
Cain says the company can make chassis parts from flexibly rolled steel and change the thickness so that in a continuous roll of steel, “we are able to take out 25 percent of the weight of a structural part or a ladder frame part and actually improve crash performance and improve manufacturability. As an example, our coil springs are designed using specialized steel and special processes and we are able to take the weight out of springs.
“We have a whole suite of power train products, too, so our products are lighter than our competitor’s because it can be in a smaller package, ” Cain says, adding that “you can take weight out of your transmission with our transmission disc spring. The case itself can be smaller also, which is interesting. You are able to save space; therefore you can make more interior room in a vehicle.”
Cain says the company provided “product to the Ford F150 which was optimized from a weight perspective. We also do work with a lot of the leading technology companies that are out there, the alternative OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who are working on electrification and autonomous driving and these kinds of things.”
The company started as a spring, tool and machine manufacturer, Cain says, “and we still to this day make a lot of our own machinery.”
And like many companies, Cain says Mubea faces the uncertainty of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a problematic labor supply.
Cain says the company must optimize its supply chain in the face of uncertainty regarding the trade environment.
“We buy a lot of steel, so we are trying to make sure that is optimized, ” says Cain, who is a member of several automotive industry associations. “We focus our activities on making sure that whatever goes on with trade…has a minimal impact on our supply chain because we are very integrated in how we work between here and Mexico and Europe and what have you, so that is one concern and a challenge, partly because of the uncertainty.”
Cain says the industry is taking steps to make sure “that nothing happens that has negative unintended consequences. There may be some updates, some modifications to it (NAFTA). I am sure it needs some updates, some minor tweaks, but we feel like any changes that might occur will be minor. I think if there are major changes it would complicate things for us, but we have a diverse supply chain and we would figure out a way to work with it.”
And another challenge, Cain says, is trying to find and retain talented employees in engineering, maintenance and tool-making. “Master technicians are necessary for us to run our product and maintain our machinery. A lot of our stuff is automated, robots and all this kind of stuff, so trying to find those people is difficult because we know that the unemployment rate for those kinds of people who want a job is about zero.”
Employee training also is a major focus for the company, Cain says, some of which is done in Germany. “It provides a different cultural experience for employees, which they appreciate, ” Cain says.
“But we have been here for 32 years, so a lot of training is done here. We have a $2.5 million annual budget that we invest in an apprenticeship program. We work closely with the governor’s office here in Kentucky and with the labor cabinet, the education cabinet. We partner with local junior colleges and actually help them with their curriculum.”
He says the company has about 32 apprentices in a three-year program patterned after a program used in Germany, which has been in place for nearly 50 years.
Mubea sells products to almost every OEM. Cain notes that the company’s location in Kentucky makes it convenient to the burgeoning Southern automotive manufacturing community.
Cain, an accountant by trade, joined Mubea as chief financial officer 10 years ago and became chief executive officer in 2010.
So what make of car does he drive? “I drive a Mercedes Benz GLE, and yes, we supply parts for it.”
BILL GERDES // Photos by AARON BORTON