The Gage County Industrial Park’s first tenant, and an employer of over 240 area residents, is celebrating two large accomplishments in 2021.
This year marks 100 years since Neapco Components became a company, and 40 since opening its Beatrice location.
Neapco Components is a tier one automotive supplier that manufactures drivelines and driveline components for businesses including John Deere, Case New Holland Industrial and Array Technologies.
Chief Davidson, plant manager for Beatrice, said Neapco is actually an acronym for New England Auto Parts Corporation, where the business was originally based. He said they expanded locations to Nebraska to be near one of their largest ag customers, Case New Holland out of Grand Island.
“I think when they looked at it initially, they were impressed with the people here, the work ethic that they found, the willingness to work with a company to locate a facility here,” Davidson said about the Gage County location. “And with Grand Island being two hours away, that would certainly provide us access not only to the west, but then to Lincoln and Omaha and all interstates there out. So it was kind of the best location for what we were trying to do in proximity to the customer, and then proximity to transportation to the rest of the country.”
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Davidson said Neapco currently works on power takeoff shafts for all-terrain vehicles and utility terrain vehicles for businesses like Honda and Yamaha, which are also used in tractors. He said they make individual components that can be bought separately, as well.
“So really, a wide variety of equipment and products that we service,” Davidson said. “We also service and sell to our sister plants, for example our sister plant in Belleville, Michigan. We supply the bearing cups for all of their bearing joints, for all of their u-joints and drive shafts. And Ford is their biggest customer, with the F-150 being the biggest user of all of that. So everything is driveline related, whether its component or complete driveline in steel, aluminum or carbon fiber.”
Neapco has made a lot of changes over 100 years, including adding plants in Germany, Poland and Mexico, and making parts more sophisticated, Davidson said. He said they fit and balance better, something that Original Equipment Suppliers and consumers both enjoy, and that Neapco continues to search for ways to reduce weight and waste, providing a value add for customers.
“We have a customer today that buys a lot of product from us, and they’re non-automotive,” Davidson said. “They’re actually in the solar power industry, and we provide the mechanisms that position their mirrors to track the sun. So that’s a little bit out of the norm for us, but it’s the same type of technology. We’re also very heavily involved with the electric vehicle manufacturers. We know that that’s an upcoming trend, and we’re working on various new products that will support that industry as it gets off the ground.”
Davidson said Neapco’s goal for the next 100 years is to continue growing and innovating the internal combustion drive market, while also shifting focus to the electric vehicle market and seeing what components they need.
“If they use a motor in a wheel, you don’t need a drive shaft,” Davidson noted. “So what do you need to make that an efficient transfer? So we’re really working with the EV manufacturers to say ‘what are you looking at? What are you doing so that we can help you grow, which then helps us grow?’”
With the Beatrice plant specifically, Davidson said the goal is to be a very high-precision, high-flexibility, somewhat low-volume or unique manufacturer, that can also do some assembly. He said Neapco has huge growth opportunities across the board, including in Nebraska, but that that does not include a building expansion at this time.
Davidson said millions of dollars has been invested in the Beatrice plant over the last five years, so a physical expansion is not due to a lack of willingness or business opportunities. Rather, Davidson noted the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lack of potential employees.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, Nebraska had a 2.9% unemployment rate in April, tied with South Dakota, Utah and Vermont. That number has since declined further, with Nebraska having a rate of 2.2% last month.
“We just don’t have enough people in the state,” Davidson said. “We’re constantly looking for people to add to the team that can add value, clear thinking. We’re looking for leaders, we’re looking for problem solvers, and we’re looking for them to make a career here whether it’s starting out as the newest guy on the floor, or somebody graduating from college and starting as one of our technical forces.”
Davidson said Neapco provides long-term employment and job security for area residents. In addition, he said they’re active in humanity programs like the YMCA and United Way.
“We really want to value our assets, and a lot of those are relationships,” Davidson said. “Our people are our greatest asset. And I would say that for all of Neapco, not just Beatrice. So we really want to continue to strengthen that relationship, provide that ongoing training where people can actually have a progression through and do different types of work, if they so choose.”
“We look at ourselves as kind of a family,” Davidson said. “It’s a large family, but still a family, and we want to look out for each other. That’s part of our vision, mission and goals. Look out for our people, look out for our customers, look out for our suppliers and our community, and how do we move all of those forward.”