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Detroit — Half of the employees so far hired at Flex-N-Gate's manufacturing plant are Detroiters, the company said Monday.

The sounds of whirring machines and clanking metal inaugurated the $160-million manufacturing facility as it begins real production for the Ford Ranger. The plant covers 30 acres of Detroit’s I-94 Industrial Park, not far from the Coleman A. Young International Airport in the 7000 block of Georgia between Mount Elliot and Van Dyke. The investment represents the largest by an automotive supplier in Detroit in more than 20 years, according to the mayor's office.

"Now the real work begins," said Shahid Khan, CEO of Flex-N-Gate, "which is to get more people employed and produce a good, competitive product right here."

The Urbana, Illinois-based company previously committed to hiring 51 percent of the construction workers from within the city. Khan previously said 30 percent of the construction contracts for the site were going to Detroit companies. Now, more than 100 of the 230 employees in the plant live in the city.  As the company expects the plant to grow to 750 people, it said it will continue to hire Detroit residents first and offer training over the next year.

Flex-N-Gate builds vehicle front-end parts, such as headlamps and bumpers, for automotive manufacturers. Ford Motor Co. awarded the company a long-term contract to manufacture parts. The Detroit plant is manufacturing about 50 percent of the body for the Ranger.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the new plant was another reason why Detroit is the automotive capital of the world. He said 75 percent of research and development in the industry in the United States happens in Michigan.

"We not only do that research, we turn them into products that people can use," Snyder said. "That's what Flex-N-Gate is here to do. If you look at the country, Michigan has led in the creation of manufacturing jobs over the last eight years, and we're just getting started."

As an incentive, Flex-N-Gate received a $5.9 million property tax abatement from the city and a $2.6 million federal grant to fund road improvements on the south side of the site. The Michigan Strategic Fund also approved a $3.5 million grant for the project.

Detroit Councilman Scott Benson, who represents District 3 where the plant is located, said Flex-N-Gate was one of the first companies to participate in the city's community benefits program. Residents in the affected zone said they emphasized jobs for those in the neighborhood.

"Community benefits works," Benson said. "We are going to continue hiring Detroiters and make sure everybody participates in the revitalization of the city of the Detroit."

Focus: HOPE is working with Flex-N-Gate to provide training to Detroit residents. About 70 Detroiters have graduated the program and now are employed in the plant.

Entry-level pay is $14 per hour plus benefits with the opportunity to get to a $16 wage over the first 18 months.

Tashar Mosby, 26, of Detroit was the first person hired by Flex-N-Gate for the new plant. He graduated from Focus: HOPE in 2011 to become a machinist and then entered an engineering program. At one point, he took three buses to work and held a full- and part-time job. Now, he is an industrial engineer who was recently promoted and helped design Flex-N-Gate's training program.

"The journey was through hard work and dedication," he said, "I made it here today."

The building is about 480,000 square feet with room for 300,000 square feet in expansion. It houses seven stamping presses with room for two home and 14 injection molding machines. Equipment will also include assembly cells.

It is the equipment and engineering that make it affordable, Khan said, to manufacture in the city.

The Economic Development Corp. took possession of the industrial park in 2000, but by 2016, only one company, Linc Logistics, had moved onto the 189-acre site of vacant land abandoned buildings. Flex-N-Gate's orange and gray building now anchors the site that also includes ArcelorMittal Tailored Blanks.

Mayor Mike Duggan said more than two years ago, Khan approached him, requesting if they could pull together a deal in 30 days to bring Flex-N-Gate to Detroit.

"I said, 'That's 10 more days than we need,'" Duggan said. "This is what happens when we work together."

bnoble@detroitnews.com 

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