By Herb Meeker

News Report Staff

Japanese Consul-General Naoki Ito was impressed Tuesday with his tour of Effingham, which included a walk through one of the most internationally-connected businesses in Effingham County.

Waupaca Foundry, previously named Hitachi Metals Automotive Components, on the west side of Effingham employs 209 people and produces up to 450,000 automotive parts each month for several automotive manufacturing companies, including Honda, Volkswagen, Nissan, Subaru and General Motors, with plants across the United States. As Consul-General, Ito’s responsibilities extend to economic development relating to Japan so his visit to Waupaca showed what Effingham has to offer.

“I am very impressed with what you have here in Effingham,” said Ito, who has been working at the Consulate office in Chicago for the past nine months. The economic section of Japanese Consulate in Chicago works to enhance closer economic cooperation between Japan and Illinois and nine other Midwest states stretching from Indiana to North Dakota.

Effingham Regional Growth Alliance President and CEO Craig A. Nielsen said Ito’s visit with Keiko Ishihara of the Consulate’s economic section, and Hisayo Matsumoto, an economic researcher, was an excellent way to demonstrate Effingham’s commercial potential.

Also visiting Effingham Tuesday were Tshubas Hashimoto and Kevin Kalb of the Japan External Trade Organization. Nielsen said the visit was arranged through the Alliance and Intersect Illinois.

Alex Hagler, Waupaca plant manager in Effingham, offered an overview of the plant’s operations before a plant tour. He noted most vehicle owners are not familiar with the metal knuckles, turbo housings, control arms, brackets and specialty parts produced at the Effingham facility. He also explained the term “Foundry” is inaccurate to describe their role, which covers precision machining and assembly. Those are key roles for the plan in the  Waupaca network with different facilities in the Midwest.

And work is underway to expand the Effingham plant’s potential to keep up with the high demand from its customers. That bodes well for the community, and it could also help draw more businesses to Effingham in the future.

Hagler said one of the great advantages with having the Waupaca plant in Effingham is its central location and connection to interstates and railways. That could help put Effingham on the front burner when Japanese businesses consider future investments in Illinois.