Last May, the DOE Loan Programs Office (LPO) announced a $365 million conditional commitment to CelLink Corporation through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program. When finalized, the loan will help finance the expansion of a domestic manufacturing facility producing a lighter and more efficient flexible circuit wiring harnesses for automotive and other industries. CelLink’s technology enables the reshoring of automotive wire harness production that is currently almost all done offshore.

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting their new facility in Georgetown, Texas, to take stock of their approach to building clean energy jobs—a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Investing in America agenda. Five months after our announcement, CelLink has gone from a featureless factory floor to its first operational production line operated by roughly forty employees, a number co-founder Kevin Coakley expects to double by year end and ultimately hopes to grow to more than 1,200. Kevin and his team hosted LPO in discussion with educators, construction partners, and municipal development representatives from around the greater Austin region.

 

LPO Director Jigar Shah visits CelLink Corporation's New Facility in Georgetown, Texas
LPO Director Jigar Shah (center) visits CelLink's new facility in Georgetown, Texas. Photo courtesy of CelLink Corporation.

 

Over two dozen stakeholders showed up to discuss one thing—how CelLink’s presence benefits the local economy. The objective was to bring many threads of ongoing community conversations together, but above all, for CelLink’s partners to be heard in the presence of what will become one of the largest employers in Georgetown. We covered a lot of ground while huddled around the conference table overlooking CelLink’s factory floor. We heard from the Chancellor of Texas State Technical College on their success tying local hiring results to training programs’ funding and focus. We had back-and-forth on how local housing and transportation challenges could affect CelLink’s ability to attract the hundreds of workers CelLink expects to eventually employ. And we heard from the leadership of CelLink on the actions they’re taking to develop and attract operational talent as they expand a new factory in an already a fast-growing community. I left our roundtable discussion with three key takeaways:

  1. Early workforce engagement lowers risk in a project. We say this at LPO often, but it’s another thing to see it happening firsthand. During the factory tour, the skills and dexterity on display made clear to me that these were not workers who woke up one day and decided to try their hand at manufacturing. Their attention to detail and technical familiarity clearly came from robust skills training. That success is the result of partnerships that CelLink created as early as it could with local workforce partners, including the Austin Regional Manufacturing Association, the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas State Technical College, and local high schools. The availability of a skilled workforce—developed in partnership with the local workforce, education system, and organized labor—is key to successful operations and a borrower’s ability to repay their loan.  
     
  2. It’s starting to make sense to build big in America again. Manufacturing jobs are different today because we as a country have begun again to recognize the value of deploying innovation at home, at scale. In the example of CelLink, their flat, flex harness technology is appealing because they provide the quality and reliability that modern electrical applications demand of their product. When you look at how conventional alternative wiring harnesses are made—an arduous manual process most cost-effective from low-skill, low-wage labor—it begins to make sense why the lighter, smaller, and faster-to-produce option CelLink offers makes sense to manufacture in the heart of Texas.
     
  3. But reshoring successfully will take all of us. If we want to be successful as a nation in increasing manufacturing employment, we need to bring all partners to the table to work together. Recruiting workers, engaging disadvantaged communities, paying competitive wages, and ensuring a safe and healthy workplace are keys to a successful operation; and they aren’t possible without engaging the right stakeholders. Talking with organized labor can also provide benefits that make it easier to ramp up in this competitive environment.

Thanks again to the CelLink team for the fine work they are doing to bring quality jobs to Texas. Check back in frequently as I visit more of our applicants developing the clean energy workforce across the country.

While the conditional commitment demonstrates the Department’s intent to finance the project, several steps remain for the project to reach critical milestones, and certain conditions must be satisfied before the Department issues a final loan. Read more about the CelLink project.

 

Jigar Shah
Director of the Loan Programs Office
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