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GM to invest $877M in Flint truck plant

Melissa Burden, and Michael Wayland

Flint — General Motors Co. will invest $877 million in its Flint Assembly Plant to build a new body shop, located closer to the Flint Metal Center, the supplier of sheet metal and parts used in vehicle production at the plant.

UAW General Motors Department Vice President Cindy Estrada (left) and GM Vice President North America Manufacturing and Labor Cathy Clegg

The Detroit automaker Tuesday said the investment completes the $5.4 billion in U.S. facility announcements it has made since late April. GM said the investments over the next three years at U.S. plants will create 650 new jobs, primarily at two other Michigan facilities.

“It’s fitting, I think, that the grand finale is right here in Flint Assembly plant in the city of our birth,” GM North America manufacturing and labor relations vice president Cathy Clegg said during an event at the plant. “Obviously, we’ve had a long history in Flint; ups and downs for sure. But things are looking up right now and certainly have been in recent years.”

The announcement comes amid the automaker’s contract talks with the United Auto Workers union. GM has made several investment announcements over the past few months ahead of the talks. Typically, automakers make vehicle and investment commitments as part of contracts. The current contract expires in mid-September.

Clegg and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada were complimentary of each other during the event. After the announcement, both separately told reporters that the company and union don’t believe it benefits either to hold investments back just because it’s a contract negotiation year.

“It’s about what do you do that’s right for the plant and the community at the time. Thank God that GM thinks that way,” Estrada said. “Why hold an investment back that we want to happen now that’s good for the company? That would not be very forward-thinking. Now do we want more during bargaining? Of course.”

Clegg said the company is in constant communication with the union and investments are announced at times that best benefit the company and its customers.

“We’re making the investment announcements at the appropriate time for the business,” Clegg said. “It’s not really something that is bargained before. It is our commitment to the ongoing business.”

Both declined to comment on specific discussions occurring between the two sides.

Flint Assembly, which builds heavy-duty versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra and light-duty Silverado pickups, is GM’s oldest assembly plant in North America. It opened in 1947 and has produced more than 13 million vehicles since.

General Motors Flint Assembly employee Dan Hippensteel attaches the grille to the front of a GMC Sierra 2500 HD truck Tuesday, August 4, 2015 in Flint, Michigan.

GM said the investment, which retains jobs but creates no new ones, also includes general assembly area improvements, plus retooling and installing new equipment. Construction on the 883,000-square-foot body shop, north of the Flint Metal Center, is expected to start in the first half of next year and is planned to be finished in 2018. The new location will cut down on transportation time and handling between the two sites, improving quality, GM said.

GM has announced investments of more than $1.8 billion for the Flint assembly plant since 2011, including $600 million for a new paint shop slated to open next year.

“In the last several years, GM’s investments in the city of Flint have topped $2.5 billion, creating hundreds of construction jobs and an economic boost for the community,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said in a statement. “This investment not only strengthens the ties between GM and the city, it demonstrates that Flint continues to play an important role in the resurgence of manufacturing in Michigan and the rest of the United States.”

During the mid-1950s, more than 80,000 people were employed by General Motors in the Flint area. In 1999, the massive Buick City complex, that during the 1980s had employed tens of thousands, closed.

Today, GM employment has fallen to about 7,200 at eight facilities including Flint Assembly, Flint Metal Center, Flint Engine Operations and Flint North American Tooling Center. The automaker’s Customer Care and Aftersales is headquartered in Grand Blanc and it has two processing centers in Genesee County.

The plant allows customers to see their Silverado or Sierra pickups come off the assembly line in what it calls “View Builds.”

“This announcement is due to the hard work and dedication of our UAW members in Flint,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who leads the UAW GM department, in a statement. “This proves once again that when we work together in a collaborative approach, UAW members continue to come up with innovative ways to grow the business, which provides jobs and improves the quality of the products we produce.”

Flint Assembly employs more than 2,800 workers, including nearly 2,600 hourly workers represented by UAW Local 598.

Last month, GM announced a $1.4 billion investment for its Arlington Assembly Plant in Texas to help it better produce full-size SUVs. It is also investing $1.2 billion at its Fort Wayne Assembly Plant in Roanoke, Indiana. That plant builds full-size light- and heavy-duty Silverados and Sierras.