Compiled ByDeborah Austin Aiming to increase flexibility while controlling inventory and shipping costs, Ford Motor Co. is developing its first U.S. supplier manufacturing campus near its Chicago assembly plant -- with nine suppliers now committed. The 155-acre $250 million park -- opening next year, fully operational in 2004 -- is a collaboration between Ford, Chicago-based land developer CenterPoint, and local and state officials. The suppliers: Sanderson, Tower Automotive, ZF-Lemforder, Visteon, S-Y Systems, Summit Polymers Inc., Plastech, Brose and Pico. Today, materials travel an average of 450 miles to the Chicago Assembly Plant; bringing key suppliers together should reduce that to 125 miles. More than half of Chicago Assembly's external buy is expected to come from the supplier campus. The park also will enable cross-tier relationships, says Ford, Dearborn, Mich.