CINCINNATI -- Italy might not be the first country that comes to mind when people think about foreign investment in Cincinnati.
But 18 Italian companies that make everything from sheet metal to motors to Mentos -- the freshmaker! -- would beg to disagree.
Armando Varricchio, Italy's ambassador to the United States, visited Wednesday to celebrate his country's growing investment in the Tri-State and to explore new opportunities to create jobs here. He is the first Italian ambassador ever to visit Cincinnati, his office and city officials believe.
The ambassador's whirlwind introduction to Cincinnati included meeting Italian company leaders and members of the European American Chamber of Commerce, Mayor John Cranley, University of Cincinnati President Neville Pinto and watching a presentation by UC's College of DAAP.
"It was long overdue," Varricchio told WCPO in an interview in city hall chambers. "I think it's very important for a representative of Italy to get a sense of this important part of the country."
The ambassador pointed out that Italy is Europe's second-largest manufacturing country, behind only Germany. He said most of the country's U.S. investment is concentrated on the coasts and that the Midwest presents an opportunity for growth, building on those already in Tri-State.
"In the area around Cincinnati, we have many very important companies. They are very important players for job creation. They hire talented, skilled laborers," he said.
Big and small companies
While companies like Toyota might grab more headlines, Italian companies have been busy creating jobs here. According to REDICincinnati, which recruits businesses to the Tri-State, the six largest Italian companies in the Tri-State employ nearly 4,200 workers. Another 12 companies have smaller workforces in addition.
“Foreign direct investment is a vital piece of strong economies,” said Janelle Lee, director of international business development for REDICincinnati, which helps recruit businesses to the Tri-State. “The region has a legacy of connecting with Italian businesses. The Cincinnati region’s commitment to hard work and collaboration makes us the right place for these companies to grow.”
Italian companies are doing business throughout the Tri-State as far north as Salvagnini America in Hamilton and as far south as Perfetti Van Melle in Erlanger.
The largest by far is Luxottica North America, the eyewear company headquartered in Mason, which employs 3,100 people.
Perfetti is second with 300 workers responsible for making Mentos and Air Heads.
The upside to globalism:
Greater Cincinnati is home to 18 Italian companies, creating more than 4,200 jobs for the Tri-State:
• Bonfiglioli USA
• Corghi USA
• Datalogic Automation
• DRS Mobile Environmental Systems
• DRS Sustainment System
• Eurostampa North America
• Exor America
• Fameccanica North America
• Mario Cotta America
• Perfetti Van Melle
• P.E. USA
• PG LifeLink
• PMP Industries
• Post Glover Resistors
• RA Jones
• Salvagnini America
• Valbruna Stainless
A printer's story
Eurostampa set up shop in Cincinnati's Roselawn neighborhood in 2007. The family-owned business prints labels for wine and liquor bottles.
When the family decided to branch out from Italy into the United States, they chose to buy a Cincinnati printing shop that had long experience printing labels for Jim Beam's bottling plant in Carthage, which closed in 2011.
Eurostampa's Cincinnati shop grew quickly and was operating out of multiple buildings until it built a new plant on Seymour Avenue in 2011. They outgrew that, too, and doubled the size of the building in 2014.
The U.S. branch of the company that started with a handful of employees 10 years ago has grown to 190 workers, with another 15 to 20 at a California satellite office.
Garry Lanham, Eurostampa CFO, said the wealth of experienced printers that had done labeling for Jim Beam was a major factor for the company's decision to choose Cincinnati.
"We started here because the company that we purchased was here," he said.
Still, cities and states constantly compete with each other to lure away companies when they need to expand. So why did Eurostampa stick around?
"We worked closely with the local governments, and the city of Cincinnati was very helpful," Lanham said.
"They treated us like we were important even though we weren’t at the time (with a small number of workers). They understood we needed support and gave it to us. It was also important for the family that we stay near where the existing employees came to work."
Cincinnati Council Member Amy Murray said visits from high-profile diplomats like Verricchio are evidence that the region is on the international trade map.
"Cincinnati's relationship with Italy is very strong right now. Once you see a few companies form a business here, then more will come," she said. "I think the city is really working with REDI and the port to make sure we have land ready and inviting and welcoming."
Lanham said Eurostampa remains enthusiastic about Cincinnati. "They're very happy with the location, the workforce, the support from the local governments. Now we just want to keep growing."
He said the growing number of Italian companies is building momentum for even more to follow.
"It's a huge selling point that they have people here that are already doing it, have already made mistakes," Lanham said. "We want to help in any way we can just to help people understand where Cincinnati is and what the benefits to locating here are compared to New York or New Jersey or Chicago."
Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.