The numbers matter.
From a single auto plant in Wayne, Ford Motor Co. annually generates $1.8 billion in payroll, buys $1 billion in parts from in-state suppliers, employs 5,000 on-site and 24,000 across the state and contributes $3 billion to Michigan's state gross product, says a Center for Automotive Research report partly funded by the Dearborn automaker.
Even now, four years after the global financial meltdown and a wave of bankruptcies forced radical restructuring on the hometown auto industry, huge doesn't begin to describe the economic power of a Detroit auto manufacturing site actually manufacturing vehicles consumers want to buy.
Those are the vehicles, by the way, that traditionally came from outside the country because it was too expensive to build them in U.S. plants. Until, that is, landmark talks with the United Auto Workers helped make Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant a competitive site to build compact Focus models.
And that's just one plant operated in one state by one of Detroit's Big Three. Simple multiplication shows why the prospect of new auto plant investment gives politicians heart palpitations, provided the prospective investor isn't on the downward slide to bankruptcy, federal oversight or both.
Memories of those wrenching months may be fading, especially around contract time, but the painful lessons should not. There's no substitute for keeping the old, broken Detroit model deeply buried and instead running a globally competitive business. Everyone wins.
In an overdue charm offensive on Capitol Hill Thursday, General Motors Co. Chairman Dan Akerson offered a "report card" on the No. 1 automaker, leaving behind a hard copy for lawmakers. The numbers, according to a copy obtained by The Detroit News, should get the attention of even the most jaded coastal member of Congress:
Detroit still matters, a lot.
GM employs 80,000 people working in 41 facilities across the United States, the report says. The automaker this year and next will introduce 27 new or refreshed vehicles across a lineup on track to become the youngest in the industry. GM plans to spend $3 billion to upgrade 4,000 dealerships operating in all 50 states.
From 2010 through last year, GM's adjusted profits totaled $23.2 billion worldwide, $19.8 billion of which came from its North American unit. The company also is investing $8.1 billion in U.S. plants, and is reestablishing its information technology function by hiring 4,000 employees in four states. And GM has created or retained 23,000 jobs in the States since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009.
GM didn't get there on the strength of the kind of bootstraps workout that Ford executed to keep itself out of federally induced bankruptcy. But the mounting evidence, part of a goodwill mission by Akerson and his lieutenants, shows GM is taking advantage of its second chance, courtesy of American taxpayers.
It should. The continued financial and sales success of GM, Ford and Chrysler Group LLC are critical to sustainably reviving the state economy and pumping badly needed tax revenue into state and local coffers. Even more so now because the Big Three's restructuring in recent years — including closing plants in the southeast and mid-Atlantic — more heavily concentrated the industry in Michigan.
That's a blessing, so long as management and union leadership remember the harsh lessons of 2008 and guard against the kind of we're-doing-great complacency that worries the three guys running their respective shows in Detroit, Dearborn and Auburn Hills.
They're outsiders — Akerson, Alan Mulally at Ford and Sergio Marchionne at Chrysler. They are not products of the cultures they lead so much as antidotes to them. But their successors, if the inside handicapping proves accurate, are likely to come from the ranks of their companies amid flusher times.
Their challenge: Do not squander the second chances financed by taxpayers, nor the second chance the Blue Oval reaped under the leadership of Mulally. Because the numbers show the Detroit-based auto industry, as the nation learned a few years ago, still matters to the economy.
In response to Akerson's Capitol Hill conclave, several old hands of the Michigan congressional delegation issued statements congratulating GM on a job well done. But most of the credit goes to the people who'll probably never see their names in the paper or in press releases — the tens of thousands who gutted through awful times and came out the other side.
They showed it can be done.
Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
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