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City, county need to plan for life after HTI

To the Editor:
It is time for a wake-up call to local government planners to consider life after Hutchinson Technology, Inc. (HTI), following the recently announced acquisition by TDK of Japan. As with many things in life, it is prudent to hope for the best but plan for the worst, or at least consider possible alternatives to the status quo.
As a former HTIer of almost 25 years, I hope HTI’s manufacturing presence will be around for at least another 25 years. However, unless HTI officials have informed local government that a continued HTI presence has been committed to by TDK, it is now time for Hutchinson’s and McLeod County’s planners to do some alternate scenario planning.
I believe the HTI plant faces two significant challenges going forward, should the TDK acquisition conclude. Besides my knowledge of HTI as a former employee, I have also worked at another Minnesota-founded public manufacturer that was later acquired by a Japanese conglomerate. I joined FSI International in Chaska in 2012. Shortly thereafter, Tokyo Electron, a company 80 times bigger than FSI, purchased FSI. From my FSI experience, I observed how local decisions transferred to Japan and how, two to three years later, resulted in painful facility consolidations.
In my opinion, HTI first faces pressure to consolidate its U.S. manufacturing between its Hutchinson and newer Eau Claire facilities. Both plants, to my knowledge have over 600,000 square feet (15 acres) each! Together, they total over 1 million square feet of area! Having been part of the HTI equipment engineering team, I believe that the HTI Eau Claire plant is the largest and best designed phototech facility in the world. As a former HTI member of the PhotoChemical Machining Institute, I was deeply knowledgeable about this technology world-wide and no one was close to HTI in capability.
Also in the HTI Eau Claire plant is an impressive TSA+ additive line that again is world class and undoubtedly a key interest of TDK to acquire. Both of these operations are far more advanced than what exists in Hutchinson. Based on this, it is not difficult to see TDK choosing Eau Claire, if consolidation is the goal.
Beyond the potential consolidation of HTI facilities, there is a larger possibility of merging within TDK in Asia. HTI has been an anomaly the past 20 years being a U.S. manufacturer, while the vast majority of disk drive operations migrated to Asia long ago.
It is time for local government planners to assess what life after HTI could look like and temper their spending and bonding plans that we may all regret deeply three to five years down the road. This deserves to be part of long range planning and before 2016 levies are assessed.
Jim Bobier
Acoma Township