Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, October 20, 2008
The Grand Rapids area is losing its last GM facility. When I moved out here almost 23 years ago, GM was the area’s biggest employer. GM was never dominant here like in the Flint I left, but still a significant part of the economy. Other GM facilities fell away to global competition, wrong-guesses, spin-offs, hard times. But the really distressing thing about this particular GM facility is that it is universally acknowledged as a jewel — a highly efficient, extremely safe, premium quality stamping facility. The management has historically been creative and competent. The local union, cooperative, pragmatic, and focused on worker safety. (Have you ever been in a stamping facility? Basically, huge rolls of steel go in one side, humongous dies cut and and stamp the metal, and large car parts — hoods, doors, roofs — flow out the other side.) The facility’s only fault is its location — it’s not adjacent to an assembly plant — and GM simply has too many stamping facilities at the moment.
It is incredibly difficult to set up a stamping facility and have it hum like this one has. It takes a lot of talent, engineering know-how, skilled craftspeople to produce world-class work under difficult conditions. And now that is going away, which is sad and seems like an awful waste.
The salt in this particular wound is that this facility closing can be traced fairly directly to the recent financial meltdown. GM is short on cash because there is no cash. The banks and Wall Street and lack of government oversight has so thoroughly screwed the economic pooch that money has evaporated and any that the government pours back in is apparently being sponged by the very same institutions. This all leaves little capital to either finance purchasing a car or finance the building of cars.
If I were a GM worker who busted my butt to send my kid to college only to see that kid working in investment banking, developing those re-packaged, warmed-over, mortgage debt products, well, I’d be thinking about running that kid through the stamping plant before it closes….