By Mark Kelly
For more than 30 years, HL-A has been an integral part of Selma’s business community. Today, with changes in what has been its core business — compounded by ongoing challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic — the company is intent on finding new opportunities and new avenues for expanding its business portfolio and continuing to provide economic and community impacts that contribute to growth and progress in the historic South Alabama town.
Established as a joint venture in 1988, HL-A was the first U.S. facility for Japan-based Honda Lock, which has owned 100 percent of the company since 1997. As the name suggests, the Selma operation began with mass production of key cylinder sets for Honda automobiles, expanding over the years to also include sub-assemblies and fully assembled outside door handles.
In addition to hand assembly, automated assembly and testing of finished assemblies, HL-A employees are skilled in many areas. These include integrating electronic components into assemblies (with clean room applications), small component assembly, working with the customer to ship in sequence with the customer’s production schedules and warehousing. According to Sam Jeffers, Senior Manager of Sales at Honda Lock R&D Center in Marysville, Ohio, the key to the company’s longevity in Selma has been the quality of its workforce, which currently numbers 186.
“Stability and reliability,” Jeffers says when asked to expand on that point. “Our associates in Selma are extremely well-trained, and the majority of them — including our plant manager, Mike Walters — have been with the company for 15 years or more. We know we can count on them to do a great job, and to be there day in and day out.”
Just as HL-A has built and maintained a strong relationship with employees in Selma, the company is also an active part of the community. For years, HL-A has provided classroom supplies for K-12 students in local schools and is joining the Selma City Schools Department of Teaching and Learning as a sponsor of the new R.B. Hudson STEM Academy Resource Center. Jeffers says that sense of partnership reflects the spirit of Selma.
“I’ve been going to Selma for 20 years,” declares Jeffers. “In all that time, I haven’t been to another plant where I’ve felt more welcome, more a part of the family. We have great people, and they help make Selma a great community and a great place to do business.”
Today, the ongoing shift to keyless lock systems has created challenges for the Selma facility. Even as the plant continues to perform at a high level of efficiency during the pandemic, HL-A is moving to expand its customer base beyond Honda and attract contract manufacturing customers both in and outside of the automotive industry. In addition, the company has set aside 3,800 square feet of open floor space in its 100,000–square-foot facility — located on 11.2 acres — for a prospective tenant.
That’s where Alabama Power comes in. The familiarity that comes from its longstanding relationship with HL-A led Alabama Power to commit to assisting the company with its expansion efforts, which includes helping to identify and recruit potential new customers.
“HL-A is a major employer in Selma,” says Richard Dudley, commercial and industrial account manager for Alabama Power’s Southern Division. “They’re also a big customer of ours. Both of those factors make it very important to us to help them sustain and grow their business. What they have to offer is an asset to any company that does business with them.
“Whether you’re talking about providing jobs or contributing to the life of the community, HL-A is important to Selma, and HL-A and Selma are important to Alabama Power. We want to help them continue to be successful.”