President Obama, GM CEO Henderson to visit Lordstown plant

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

President Obama, GM CEO Henderson to visit Lordstown plant

Robert Snell / The Detroit News

President Barack Obama and General Motors Co. CEO Fritz Henderson are expected to speak later Tuesday morning at the automaker’s Lordstown Assembly plant as part of the president’s Midwest swing to talk about jobs and the economy.

The president plans to highlight the fact that GM is recalling 1,050 workers next month to work at the Detroit automaker’s assembly plant.

The visit will be Obama’s first to a U.S. auto plant while in office and since GM and Chrysler Group LLC emerged from bankruptcy earlier this summer. Both automakers received $48 billion to help them restructure after the Bush administration loaned the two automakers $17.4 billion.

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Few plants have mirrored GM’s near-death experience like the 43-year-old Lordstown facility.

Thirteen months ago, then-CEO Rick Wagoner and dignitaries attended a splashy event in the plant to announce a third shift and $350 million investment in the plant to build the new Chevrolet Cruze sedan, which is expected to launch next year and get 40 miles per gallon.

A month later, the auto industry, and financial markets collapsed. By January, Lordstown had lost two shifts and about 2,800 workers were laid off.

In April, GM announced it was idling Lordstown for three weeks along with 12 other plants as part of a broad plan to trim 190,000 vehicles from production, shave surplus inventories and align production with demand.

Yet after GM emerged from bankruptcy court July 10, the automaker announced it was adding Friday production at GM’s Orion and Lordstown plants, which had been in production four days a week.

Lordstown, which makes the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 small cars, also added two days of production on Aug. 21 and Aug. 28.

GM said last month that a second shift is being called back to work at Lordstown because of increased demand for the Chevrolet Cobalt, which was a big seller during the $3 billion "cash for clunkers" program, and to prepare for production of a new more fuel efficient compact model next year. The workers being recalled include 1,000 hourly workers and 50 salaried.

Cobalt sales were up 14 percent in August from a year ago to 17,393.

The new shift at Lordstown is to start Oct. 5.

Obama’s visit comes as manufacturing jobs as a percentage of total U.S. employment fell in August to its lowest level since 1941. Michigan has lost more than 450,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, and 20 percent of them over the past year.

The nation’s unemployment rate hit 9.7 percent — a 26-year-high — in August.

During the campaign, Obama visited numerous U.S. auto plants in Michigan, Wisconsin

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