Closing of GM's Wyoming plant hits home

January 11, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The plight of the Big Three automakers hit home hard in West Michigan in October, when a General Motors executive from headquarters went to the venerable GM stamping plant on 36th Street in Wyoming and told stunned employees it will close in 2009.

It is apparently the last GM-owned plant in the region.

Since 1936, the huge plant has produced panels, fenders and other large parts shipped to other GM plants. When it shuts down late this year, more than 1,500 jobs will be gone.

Chris Lee, a GM spokesperson in Warren, said lower demand for large pickups and SUVs, coupled with the distance between the Wyoming plant and other GM plants it supplies, led to the decision to phase out production there over the next year. He said approximately 1,340 hourly and about 180 salaried jobs would be lost.

Lee said more than 40 percent of the Wyoming plant's production "is associated with parts for full-sized pickups, full-sized SUVs and mid-sized SUVs, which have been the hardest hit segments in terms of shrinking market demand."

GM announced in June it would be closing some of those assembly plants in the upper Midwest and consolidating stamping operations.

Lee said GM is working on a leaner organization with a "regional contiguous footprint," to reduce inventory in the shipping pipeline and the cost of shipping. A longer shipping pipeline requires more inventory and more containers for moving the parts. Those factors are affected by the distance between a plant and the other plants it supplies.

"With Grand Rapids being over on the west side of the state, that was a factor," said Lee. GM officials noted that there were no quality issues related to their decision.

Lee said he is not aware of any other remaining GM stamping or assembly plants in West Michigan. GM pickup assembly plants are still operating in Pontiac and in Canada.

Wyoming city manager Curtis Holt said the GM plant is the city of Wyoming's biggest taxpayer.

"We'll see a hit to our tax base that is significant. We figure the loss is about a million dollars in tax revenue," he said, adding that is estimated to represent about 7 or 8 percent of the city's tax revenue.

Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Inc. economic development organization in Grand Rapids, said the GM plant is "world class" from its infrastructure standpoint: a very large industrial facility with rail and other logistical connections.

"Clearly, there won't be hundreds of potential new users but we are going to have to look at a plan over the next weeks and months on what other users there are globally for a facility of that magnitude," she said.

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