One town that can't wait for Chrysler to leave
Newark, Del., is one of 50 cities banding together to try to turn shuttered car factories into engines of economic growth.
Even before the announcement Thursday that Chrysler would file for bankruptcy, this town's future was altered by the decline of America's No. 3 automaker. Last December, the final vehicle rolled off the assembly line at the sprawling Chrysler plant here.Skip to next paragraph
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But Newark is not looking back to the plant’s shutdown or the loss of 950 blue-collar jobs with good pay. Instead, city officials are eagerly anticipating the prospect of turning the assembly lines into, say, a high-tech park associated with the University of Delaware, which is literally across the street.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” says Vance Funk III, the mayor of Newark.
An increasing number of communities need to figure out what to do with empty factories and unionized workers accustomed to Detroit-sized wages and benefits. In response, 50 of them have formed the Mayors and Municipalities Automotive Coalition (MMAC) – a group that aims to get mothballed plants back into use.
In Newark, that could mean a high-tech park. In nearby Newport, Del., home of a Pontiac plant expected to be closed, it could mean wooing an Asian carmaker. In Lansing, Mich., the mayor is hoping for federal help to clean up four shuttered GM plants that could be an environmental mess.
MMAC, which acts as a lobbying group, estimates that some 60 factories have already closed, and that General Motors may announce another dozen closures.
“Even with a successful restructuring, there will still be transitions and there will be closures,” says Matt Ward, policy director of the MMAC in Washington.
Many communities are hoping to get money from the president’s economic stimulus package to help either with economic development or worker retraining. The $787 billion stimulus package includes $1.5 billion for worker retraining. In the case of the Chrysler workers in Newark, the Delaware Department of Labor has already had many of the workers in for interviews. The goal is to assess the workers' job skills and determine their eligibility for retraining.
“We try to match their skills to careers,” says Bob Strong, deputy to the Labor Department secretary.
MMAC has a wide agenda to try to bring money to communities faced with plant shutdowns. It would like to see the Department of Energy move funds set aside for retooling of assembly plants that produce “green” cars. It wants public works and economic adjustment grants for closed plants. And it wants to greatly expand economic development money from the federal government – from $400 million in fiscal year 2009 to $3 billion in 2010.
Michael Spencer, Mayor of Newport, is simply hoping to convince GM to use the plant in his town for another car, perhaps a hybrid.
“I have heard it’s a first-rate facility; you want to keep that plant viable,” says Mr. Spencer. “If they can’t make a go of it, let’s sell it to someone who will, whether it’s a European manufacturer, an Asian company, or Ford.”
Spencer is hoping a regional approach will work since the plant affects businesses in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. “I know the governor and his staff are reaching out to other states,” he says.