GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, MI — General Motors Co.’s announcement that it will close the Grand Blanc Weld Tool Center this year shocked workers, as well as state, county and local elected leaders, who first learned of the news Thursday morning, Jan. 17.
Brad Keskinen of Davison worked with GM since 1977 and at the Grand Blanc Township plant since 2003.
“I’m really disappointed. I thought we had a smart, productive workforce. But it’s evident that the work model was set up for failure,” Keskinen said. “And the announcement comes to a shock to us.”
Most of the work was going out to shops, he said.
“Despite the writings on the wall, it still comes as a shock to us all,” Howard said. “I’ve got 11-year-old twins at home and I have no idea what I’m going to do. I was probably going to retire at the end of this contract, at 2015, but I really feel for the younger, less-tenured, workers.”
UAW Region 1-C Director Norwood Jewell and UAW Local 1292 President Brian Kosbar were not immediately available for comment.
Operations at the plant will be stopped starting July 2013 and the employees will be offered positions at Flint Tool and Die, Warren Tech Center and the Parma Metal Center in Ohio.
The 343 employees at the site were notified Thursday morning of the plant closing, said Robert Wheeler, GM spokesman.
GM is closing the plant in an effort to consolidate operations and save money, he said, declining to say how much money would be saved.
The plant employs 28 salaried and 315 hourly employees.
“As typically, any time an operation ceases or closes … we’ll follow the contract and make sure all the provisions with the UAW are followed with the employees and their options,” Wheeler said.
Genesee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jamie Curtis called the plant closing “a huge blow” to the county’s economic health.
“That building ended up being about 90 percent skilled trade jobs,” said Curtis, himself a former GM millwright, who estimated workers there earned an average of more than $100,000 in wages and benefits.
“To see that go is devastating – you don’t make that up,” Curtis said. “There is no place for those (employees) to go” to maintain that level of income.
“Those are high-end, livable-wage jobs – not entry-level jobs,” he said. “You can raise a family, send your kids to college” on those type of jobs.
Grand Blanc area officials were caught off guard Thursday morning when they heard the General Motors Grand Blanc Weld Tool Center would be closing.
The 1.7 million-square-foot plant, located at 10800 S. Saginaw St., sits on 312 acres, 80 of them within the city of Grand Blanc. The city of Grand Blanc provides water for the plant.
“This was certainly surprising. … There were no indications to us that there were any problems,” said Grand Blanc City Manager Paul Brake, who received a letter Thursday morning about the closing. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. What will happen to that property? How will that land be repurposed?”
The city, township and the Genesee County Regional Chamber of Commerce will be in constant communication, Brake said.
Officials need to move quickly and think about what the next step for the property might be, he said.
“Obviously, it’s concerning of the number of hourly and salaried employees that are possibly being displaced. That’s first and foremost. The other concern is having a large tract of land that is going dark and how can we repurpose it,” Brake said. “We’re not going to be taking this lightly.”
State Rep. Charles Smiley, whose 50th state House District includes Grand Blanc, said history is repeating itself with respect to GM and Genesee County.
As the former mayor of Burton and a former GM employee, Smiley said he’s all too familiar with how GM’s plant closures affect families and communities.
“This is very tragic,” the Democrat said. “We’ve seen this before. It’s devastating to the community as a whole, but personally devastating to families when you have to move and relocate.”
Smiley said he wishes more could have been done to prevent it from happening, but he also knows GM has received several financial incentives throughout the years to stay in the area.
“Look through the history of the county, look at the tax abatements. We still offer that, and that’s not enough?” he said. “With the elimination of the (Michigan) business tax and the change in the tax structure and all the other things we’ve done, I would think they would fall all over this state and this county to make sure they stay here.”
MLive-Flint Journal reporters Kristin Longley, Sarah Schuch, Jeremy Allen and Ron Fonger contributed to this report.