Lear in talks to bring jobs from Mexico to Detroit

Ian Thibodeau, and Daniel Howes

Lear Corp. is in talks with local politicians and leadership of the United Auto Workers to move jobs to Detroit from Mexico.

Matt Simoncini, CEO of the Southfield-based automotive supplier, said Tuesday the company is trying to find the right “economic equation” to bring up to 5,000 jobs to Detroit; Lear employs nearly 45,000 in Mexico now.

“We’ve been in conversations with organized labor and our customers,” he said, “and we’re all trying to put our heads together and figure out a way to make it happen.”

The conversations are in the early stages. They come as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeatedly lambastes Ford Motor Co. for its decision to move North American small-car production to Mexico from the United States. It’s a line of attack that resonates with some key voter blocs.

Sourcing more parts from supplier plants located inside the United States is a political winner for suppliers and automakers alike — especially amid the deepening strains of anti-trade and anti-globalization sentiment — provided the components are priced competitively

Speaking at the grand opening of the company’s Innovation Center in downtown Detroit, Simoncini said there are multiple factors affecting the possible move: Geopolitical risks, environmental issues, transportation costs, availability of labor and inflation rates all need to be balanced.

Lear has been working “extremely well with the UAW,” he said, citing solid working relationships with the union leadership. “The jobs here, in my opinion, have to be organized jobs. UAW jobs.”

Simoncini said highly labor-intensive jobs likely would not be moved to Detroit: “You’ll never get that equation to work. If it’s semi labor-intensive ... that balance is easier to figure out.”

UAW officials are aware of the Lear’s thinking. But a source close to the situation said “there have not been discussions” between Lear and UAW President Dennis Williams on the specific prospect of moving jobs back to Detroit.

In early August, Conrad Mallett, a Lear director with close ties to Mayor Mike Duggan, said there were “meaningful” conversations happening between Lear and the mayor’s office that could result in a “pilot program. The goal: to move roughly 1,500 jobs to Detroit, a number that could swell to 5,000 over time.

On Tuesday, Duggan told a small crowd gathered inside Lear’s newly remodeled building at 119 State on the south edge of Capitol Park that the company “plans to move auto parts manufacturing back from Mexico into the city of Detroit.”

Lear currently employs about 1,000 people in Detroit and Highland Park through Integrated Manufacturing and Assembly, or IAM, a joint venture that manufactures and assembles automobile seats.

There are an abundance of viable workers in the Metro Detroit region, Simoncini said: “We just have to figure out a way to bring the jobs here in a way that’s not subsidized by any of the companies.”


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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau