Johnson Controls plans to invest up to $US26 million to build and expand a new technical centre in Slovakia in the next few years.

Reuters said the fourth largest US auto parts producer, which is also considering Slovakia for a $30 million seat components factory, aims to start construction of the centre in the western Slovakia town of Trencin in October.

“With this step, Johnson Controls is responding to the growing presence of its customers in the middle of Europe,” project manager Dieter Vandreike told the news agency.

He said the new facility, which should serve the firm’s global development network, is expected to expand gradually in the coming years if the automotive industry continues to grow.

Economy minister Pavol Rusko told Reuters the investment should create up to 600 jobs. He added that two Slovak locations were still in play for Johnson Controls’ new seat parts plant. Vandreike reportedly added the seat parts project was at the stage of investigation and that there were still several options open, but declined to elaborate.

Reuters noted that Slovak government investment agency SARIO said this month that the project would generate nearly 340 jobs and the US firm was aiming to supply PSA Peugeot Citroen and Kia Motors plants, which should both start production in 2006.

Slovakia has attracted increasing numbers of foreign firms in recent years due to its proximity to western and eastern European markets, business-friendly reforms and cheap labour force, the report said, adding that Johnson Controls already operates a seat assembly plant in Slovakia to supply Volkswagen’s factory near Bratislava.