City prays GM plant will stay in use

 


May 14, 2009

City prays GM plant will stay in use

Mayor says recovery from closure would take years

By Jill Cecil Wiersma
THE TENNESSEAN

SPRING HILL — By the end of the month, a 60-day deadline ends for General Motors to present a restructuring plan that President Barack Obama’s administration will either accept or deny.

The latter means bankruptcy is the likely option for the corporation.

It’s been an anxious time for the plant’s roughly 3,400employees who already know they are facing a five-week shutdown in June and July.

"It makes for a very interesting day at work," said Tony Mills, who moved from Flint, Mich., to work at the plant when it opened 22 years ago.

"I have some concerns, but I still think in the long term, and for the best of GM, it means Spring Hill stays in the mix," said Allen Farley, who also has been with the Spring Hill plant since the beginning.

While many remain hopeful, there’s an active push to keep the Spring Hill plant — and the importance of the auto industry — in the public’s hearts and minds.

The UAW Local 1853 is hosting a breakfast this morning as part of a national "Keep it in America" campaign this month that includes events with tour buses visiting 11 states and 36 cities. Research shows that more than 7 million jobs are tied to the fate of the auto industry beyond the direct employment and economic impact of auto production and assembly.

Also, Mike Herron, chairman of Local 1853, and Mayor Michael Dinwiddie visited Gov. Phil Bredesen late last week to solidify the state’s support for keeping the Spring Hill manufacturing plant open.

"If the decision is made purely on the business side of things, we’ll fare very well. What we’re concerned about is the politics of the decision-making," Herron said, alluding to a possible preference for the traditional rust belt plants in the Northern Democrat states.

"We have one of GM’s top plants and make the highest-volume sport utility vehicle being sold with the Traverse," he said. "GM has invested a billion dollars in the last 18 months making it the most flexible plant. We can build literally anything they need us to build with a very short time frame for changeover."

Impact weighed

Dinwiddiesaid the pending decision would have far-reaching implications for the city.

"In a worst-case scenario, obviously we’ll have an empty facility sitting there and I don’t want to see that," he said. "I think overall our city would be damaged. It would take us a long time, years to recover from that.

"But in a best-case scenario, they keep the plant and expand it," Dinwiddie said. "They’d bring more employees here who would buy houses, which helps the city financially with property taxes, impact fees and sales taxes."

In the meantime, plant employees have been cautious about their spending and other big financial decisions, Farley said.

"There’s no doubt about it: Everybody is in a major conserve mode," he said. "They’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst."

Dustin Dunbar, a member of the city’s Economic Development Commission, said he is also optimistic but realizes the impact a plant closing could have on the local and state economy.

"Everybody’s on pins and needles," he said. "We’re looking at about 3,400 people who won’t be spending money, and it would have a major ripple effect on Spring Hill and Williamson and Maury counties."

Awareness rises

Dinwiddie asked to join the UAW in its meeting with Bredesen to show the city’s support, a move appreciated at the plant where the union workers endorsed him in the city election last month.

"I think when GM was in trouble a few months ago, there wasn’t a sense of emergency. It was all rumors. But as the days go by, there’s more awareness and more understanding," Mills said. "Even just friends and neighbors didn’t understand it until here recently."

Dinwiddie said he wishes the community could show the same kind of enthusiasm for the plant that it did two decades ago when it pushed for the plant to come to Spring Hill.

"It’s not something that is being ignored," he said. "I just want to convey that to the people in the area. There are a lot of people in the area wondering what we are doing. We’re doing everything we can to support the plant."

And Mills said the company and its employees have done everything they can to keep the Spring Hill plant vital.

"We just have to hope and pray that what we’ve done will turn out to be something we can continue," he said. "We think from a performance standpoint we can hang with anybody, not just GM but with foreign competitors as well."

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