It might not seem like a good year to be in the car business, but one local auto supplier is planning to expand its operations.
Bridgewater Interiors, an Oxford company that makes car seats and the systems associated with them, announced earlier this week that it plans a $10 million expansion to its plant. That’s expected to create 35 new jobs.
“The best compliment a company can give a community is when they decide to grow in the place they already know,” said Don Hopper, director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, a nonprofit agency that recruits new businesses to the area.
Opened in 2003, Bridgewater employs around 350 people at an Oxford plant that makes seat systems for the Honda Plant in Lincoln. According to Hopper, those seats are used in the Pilot and Passport SUVs built at the Honda plant in Lincoln.
This year hasn’t been kind to Honda, or to any auto manufacturer, though there are signs the industry is recovering. According to Car and Driver Magazine, auto industry sales declined in the first three quarters of 2020 due to the COVID-19 economic slump.
Even so, the third-quarter drop in sales was slower than in previous quarters, a sign that the market may be turning around. And Honda actually saw its sales increase by 11.5 percent from August to September, Car and Driver reports.
Honda earlier this week announced a revamped version of its Ridgeline — historically one of the least popular pickups in the U.S. market — and reports in the automotive industry press suggest a facelift for the Passport and Pilot could be in the works in future years.
Attempts to reach Honda officials for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
In a press release, Bridgewater said the planned expansion would include an “investment in machinery and equipment” and a “building expansion to support additional warehousing needs.”
According to the release, the expansion will cost $10 million and create 35 jobs. It’s unclear when the expansion will be completed.
On Friday, Oxford plant manager Kelvin Wright said he couldn’t share many details beyond what the company stated in its press release. Wright did say, though, that the expansion is connected to upcoming new designs of the Passport and Pilot.
“It’s linked to their new model launch for 2023,” Wright said.
Manufacturing was among the hardest-hit sectors of Alabama’s economy during the April stay-home order brought about by the pandemic. It also seems to be bouncing back. In August, according to the Alabama Department of Labor, Alabama picked up 1,900 new manufacturing jobs, but still had 5,000 fewer manufacturing jobs than the previous August.
Unemployment figures for September are expected to be released Friday.