GM's $1B investment at Warren Tech to create 2,600 jobs

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Warren — General Motors Co. Thursday confirmed it will invest $1 billion into its sprawling Warren Tech Center campus, creating 2,600 new jobs over five years as it renovates facilities, builds new and expands some operations.

The Detroit automaker said work on its first campus-wide renovation project will begin this month and continue through 2018. Projects include building new design studios, refurbishing existing studios and a new parking structure for design employees, rebuilding and renovating research and development buildings, constructing a new multi-story information technology building for its growing operation next to the current information technology innovation center, building a new parking deck for innovation center workers and creating more testing facilities in the Advanced Energy Center. A few facilities also will be razed.

GM said it also plans "extensive office upgrades" across most Tech Center buildings, including its large Vehicle Engineering Center. The company said buildings will get new carpet, paint, furniture and work areas may be reconfigured. Mark Reuss, GM's head of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, said financial issues and its bankruptcy kept the company from upgrading many of the outdated facilities before.

GM also is changing how it architects cars so it is consistent with safety, fuel economy and carbon dioxide regulatory environments. Reuss said Warren will become a central hub for that work globally and that will require some people from other global regions coming to Warren.

Salaried jobs are expected to be added in areas such as engineering, information technology and design. GM did not specify if any jobs are transferring from other locations but Reuss said some of the first new jobs could be added around September.

Warren officials believe the investment and jobs growth at GM will create hundreds of spin-off jobs in Warren at businesses such as restaurants, hotels and suppliers. And Warren Mayor Jim Fouts believes it will help attract new businesses to its downtown region across Van Dyke from the campus.

GM wants to modernize and improve the campus to help retain and attract talent and renovations will create more open and efficient work spaces it believes are needed over the next 15 to 20 years. Employees will help decide on designs for their work areas.

"The technical capability that is needed for the future of transportation is quite different ... than it was in the 1950s," Reuss said.. "It's time to really invest in the future here and that's what we're doing."

GM says it wants to lead the auto industry in technology, safety, engineering and design.

"To do that we need the best facilities, best studios, the best labs, the best workflows and the best product development organization that we can assemble," Reuss said.

The large campus, designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, opened in 1956 and sits on 326 acres between 12 and 13 Mile, Van Dyke and Mound roads. It houses more than 19,000 GM workers and contractors.

GM has been considering a possible $419.4 million expansion and renovation for the Tech Center, though Warren officials said the investment total could reach $1 billion. In April, the Warren City Council unanimously approved a 50-percent tax abatement for that project which could generate as much as $97 million in property tax savings for GM over more than a decade.

The carmaker did not break down its investment totals but in its tax abatement application to the city of Warren it said it planned to spend: $180 million for the Design Studio and a new parking garage, $63.7 million for a building it did not identify; $54 million for unidentified parking; nearly $60 million for renovations at Research and Development buildings; $39 million for an addition to the Pre-Production Operations building; $20 million for renovation/addition to an Advanced Engineering Center lab; and $750,000 in renovation to a cafeteria.

"There really won't be a building or area on the Tech Center that's not touched," Reuss said.

Reuss told reporters that the could be an additional phase of construction after 2018.

Fouts, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Gov. Rick Snyder called the investment great news for the economy in Warren, the Detroit area and state.

"It soundly demonstrates GM's commitment to Michigan and our talented workforce, providing key jobs and career opportunities for today and tomorrow," Snyder said in a statement.

The Tech Center site has 38 buildings and many buildings were significantly damaged during the August 2014 flood. Reuss said surveys done to buildings following the flood were part of factors in GM's decision to renovate many facilities. He said work continues on repairing flood damage and that the company, for example, will replace five boilers as part of its renovation project.

Last month, GM said it will invest $139.5 million for a new body shop and stamping plant improvements at its Pre-Production Operations at the Tech Center. That investment is part of $5.4 billion GM expects to invest through 2017 at U.S. plants, creating 650 new jobs, but is also part of the $1 billion investment figure, GM spokesman Dan Flores said.

Construction on the body shop for Pre-Production has already started. GM did not give a detailed timeline for projects but said more work would start later this year.

While construction is ongoing at the Tech Center, GM will temporarily move some employees into renovated space in the former Campbell-Ewald building, which it bought last year, and leased space in a building off Van Dyke south of the Tech Center.

GM is investing $35 million into the Campbell-Ewald building, where Fouts said 800 people would work.

Reuss said global teams may travel to Warren and use the Campbell-Ewald building to work on new global vehicle architectures. He said some engineers would relocate to Warren but only temporarily.

The Tech Center last year was named as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior and National Park Service. It also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. GM says when the campus opened, it was the largest corporate building project globally and cost more than $125 million.