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Editorial: Spring Hill stands tall in industry’s sea of doubt

July 15, 2009

Editorial: Spring Hill stands tall in industry’s sea of doubt

Uncertain future for autoworkers


People line the walls of the UAW hall in Spring Hill on June 26, listening to labor leaders, city officials and others discuss the GM plant’s future after it was announced production of a new small car will be in Orion Township, Mich.

Our View

One thing 2,500 auto workers in Spring Hill have, while much of the country is looking for work, is a great resume. There’s quite a record of good work and experience at the auto plant in Maury County.

That might not bring immediate comfort to families wondering what the future holds in the wake of General Motors’ decision to make a new small car in Michigan, not Tennessee. But GM’s decision did not do one thing to diminish the quality of the plant or the quality of the workers in Spring Hill.

Spring Hill has not been an isolated player in the auto manufacturing business in Tennessee, which has seen strides in other ways recently. So the positioning of a modern plant with thousands of quality workers remains a plus. Many of those workers are weighing early retirement, buyouts or relocations, but their track record should definitely stand as a point of reassurance. To the extent workers in Spring Hill can hold on, they have a lot going for them. If GM doesn’t fully recognize the asset of those workers, someone else could. Workers also should find some measure of encouragement in a declaration by the United Auto Workers leadership that the UAW’s work won’t be complete until all displaced members are back at work.

The GM decision on Spring Hill has effects beyond just the workers and families at the plant. Maury County stands to lose in other ways. Tax revenues will be affected, which in turn will create challenges in providing services. County schools have to gauge potential changes. The decision by GM has far-reaching implications, which is why it has been so appropriate for elected officials, including state and federal representatives, to make the case for Spring Hill. Gov. Phil Bredesen showed genuine interest in putting an incentive plan on the table to keep the plant, but he correctly refused to cough up what was reported to be a $200 million payment GM wanted to pick Spring Hill.

Along the way, there have been openly expressed suspicions in some circles that GM’s decision was based on politics, as though it were some sort of red state/blue state factor. There has been no evidence to suggest the decision was anything but a business move by GM. The focus should be on how to keep Spring Hill on the map in economic recovery discussions, not on blame-laying and conspiracy theories.

Tennessee is even more of a center for the automotive industry today than when GM launched Saturn in 1985, so when people talk up the attributes of Spring Hill, it’s not just hollow rhetoric. The potential that sits in Spring Hill is as strong as ever. GM itself is coming out of bankruptcy looking like it might actually survive as a streamlined new player in the industry. But Spring Hill is still a valuable asset for the state. Families in Spring Hill will have to make extremely difficult decisions, but they are certainly not alone, as the economy has sent many major businesses reeling. The recession has broad reach, and none of those conditions are easy.

But one of the driving forces in an economic recovery is a competitive spirit. Put quality and spirit together, and that’s a leg up in any competitive environment for jobs. Spring Hill has earned its stripes. Defeat does not describe the Spring Hill site.

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