Caterpillar said Friday it was shifting production of small tractors and excavators from its Sagami, Japan plant to the United States. The world\'s leading construction equipment maker said it will build a new $200 million facility near Athens, Georgia, that will produce small track-type tractors and mini hydraulic excavators. The facility is expected to directly employ 1,400 people and generate another 2,800 jobs among suppliers and other supporting businesses. \"The decision to shift production from Japan to the United States is driven by the proximity to a large base of customers in North America and Europe,\" Mary Bell, the head of the division, said in a statement. \"Our objective is to better serve those customers from this new factory.\" \"We are making a series of significant investments around the world to position Caterpillar to maintain its leadership position,\" said Caterpillar chairman and chief executive Doug Oberhelman. The Athens site was selected because of its proximity to the major ports of Savannah and Charleston, Bell said, as well as the region\'s strong base of potential suppliers and skilled manufacturing employees. The new plant will become Caterpillar\'s global source for small track-type tractors. Ground-breaking is expected by the end of March, with production starting in late 2013 and ramping up to full production over five years. Once full production is achieved, tractor and excavator production will end at the Sagami facility and it will focus on high-tech components. The news came on the heels of announcements by Japanese automakers that they were expanding production in the US as a mega-strong yen makes Japan-made exports more expensive, squeezing profit margins. Toyota announced on February 8 it will move remaining production of its Highlander crossover sports utility vehicle from Japan to Indiana, creating 400 US jobs. A week earlier Honda, which already produces 87 percent of its vehicles for North America locally, said it would expand a US engine plant in Ohio, creating 150 jobs.