Secret keeper: Crossdock’s Lee Wilburn has been working quietly on big Autoneum project

Lee Wilburn always says he’s in the development business, not the announcing business.

Very quietly, very discretely, this Prospect-based industrial developer has been working on one of the biggest economic-development deals of 2014.

Wilburn’s Crossdock Development is the firm behind the new 300,000-square-foot Autoneum automotive parts plant announced today at RiverRidge Commerce Center outside Jeffersonville.

Wilburn’s Crossdock Development is the developer/owner of the Autoneum building, which the auto supplier will lease.

Wilburn said his confidentiality agreement with Autoneum won’t let him reveal a number of details, including how long the project has been in the works.

He did say site work has already started on the building.

“I’m surprised no one has noticed.”

They’ll notice now. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence issued a news release this morning that caught Wilburn somewhat by surprise.

(Full disclosure: Wilburn spoke briefly alongside America Place executive Keith Starling at Insider Louisville’s Jan. 20 Insiders Meetup, but asked not to be included in promotions for the event. True to form – and to our consternation – he did not mention a word about the Autoneum project.)

Just how much Autoneum is investing isn’t clear, though a 300,000-square-foot plant would conservatively be a $75 million investment at current construction, development and land prices.

The Autoneum site is at 100 River Ridge Pkwy., with direct access to the under-construction East End Bridge.

In his announcement, Gov. Pence said the plant will employ 220 people.

Zurich, Switzerland-based Autoneum makes precision acoustic and thermal insulation for global automakers.

“This is going to be a true heavy manufacturing plant,” Wilburn said. “This is not a distribution facility. This building is going to have extraordinary infrastructure ….”

That infrastructure includes machine pits where Autoneum engineers are scheduled to begin installing high-tech precision machinery this July. The machinery shreds fibers, then compacts the materials into noise baffling insulation that must be shaped to fit precisely into cars.

“The equipment they’re putting in there is extensive. This is machinery you just don’t roll in on a forklift, then move it where you want it.”

Operations are scheduled to begin in January 2015.

Wilburn told Insider Louisville this morning the building design with extra land allows for the plant to be expanded by another 100,000 square feet “whenever their demand makes that necessary.”

The foundation, utilities, drainage system and driveway configuration are all designed with the expectation the plant will get bigger.

“We spent a long, long time designing (those features) to get it to work out,” Wilburn said.

“This building is a world prototype for them.”

Wilburn believes Crossdock got the project because of their success developing and constructing innovative new buildings, including the new Catamaran facility Crossdock built, also at River Ridge.

The facility houses Catamaran Corporation’s Briova Rx division, which provides a specialized sub-section of medications for a whole roster of conditions, from psoriasis and arthritis to enzyme deficiencies.

Because of the special nature of pharmaceutical products, control over elements such as heat, temperature, light and humidity are critical. Special packaging and handling is also required.

“The Catamaran building was different … very, very tricky,” Wilburn said.

“Catamaran had never done one of those. We did it in record time. The success of Catamaran proved we could do the (Autoneum) building, though they’re very different buildings.”

Crossdock has developed mega-projects all over the Midwest, including the new 1-million-square-foot Amazon facility at River Ridge, and the Zappos building in Shepherdsville.

In addition, Crossdock has built millions of square feet of distribution space for medical supply companies, pharmaceutical suppliers, and high-tech printers.

Standard Register is a Crossdock facility in River Ridge with a specialized controlled environment for printing, Wilburn said.

A MedVenture building that Crossdock developed at River Ridge has three clean rooms in addition to a research and development facility and offices.

“We like the projects that … are complicated,” Wilburn said. “They’re more fun to work on!”