Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing is planning a $200 million expansion of the company's operations in northwest Lincoln that will result in hundreds of additional jobs.
The company, which is a subsidiary of Japan-based Kawasaki Heavy Industries, said it plans to invest in its consumer products division over the next 18 months to increase capacity to make Jet Skis, ATVs and other small vehicles. The $200 million will be used to add capacity to assembly, paint and welding lines, the company said, as well as increase automation.
Despite the increase in automation, which Kawasaki said is necessary due to the Lincoln area's low unemployment rate, the company said it still plans to add approximately 550 new employees in both its consumer products division and its rail car operations.
Jason Hellbusch, director of administration for Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing, said there are a number of reasons driving the expansion, which is one of the largest in the company's history and one of the largest in the city overall in at least the past decade.
"These would include increased sales for consumer products due to the strong economy, a desire to gain market share in the powersports industry, and the startup of the R211 contract for the New York City transit authority," he said.
Kawasaki within the past few weeks delivered the first R211 cars to New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority. The cars — which have larger doors, better lighting and digital displays — are part of a $1.4 billion contract the company secured in 2018, a contract that has the potential to grow to about $3.7 billion if all options are exercised.
Kawasaki has been in Lincoln since 1974, when it opened its only North American manufacturing plant. However, most of its investment in the plant over the past couple of decades has been to support its growing rail car division as well as its new aerospace division, which opened in Lincoln in 2017.
Kawasaki is Lincoln's largest manufacturing operation, with more than 2.4 million square feet of space at Northwest 27th Street and U.S. 34. It also is one of the city's largest private employers, with more than 2,400 employees.
Hellbusch said that to find employees in such a tight labor market, Kawasaki will expand its area of recruitment and beef up its training programs, among other initiatives. He said people interested in applying can go to kawasakilincoln.com to see available positions.
Local government and business officials said the announcement was good news.
“Kawasaki is a valued employer in the City of Lincoln. We are proud of their success and look forward to partnering with them to connect Lincoln workers to great job opportunities through our Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act program and our partnership with the Lincoln Manufacturing Council," Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said in a statement. "We know that this project will help our workers and our community grow and thrive.”
"For nearly 50 years, Kawasaki has positively impacted the business landscape of Lincoln. This expansion project will play a vital role in our ongoing workforce development efforts, creating hundreds of new jobs for members of our community," said Wendy Birdsall, president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. "I congratulate the entire Kawasaki team on this exciting announcement and applaud their continued success."
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