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Local News

August 13, 2011

Business partners

LOCKPORT — General Motors and Lockport have a history together. And the future of each could possibly depend on that partnership.

Last week, the Lockport community got a behind-the-scenes look at GM Components Holdings, the official name of the GM plant on Upper Mountain Road. About 1,300 people took a tour of the facility as part of an open house, which is something that has been going on all year at each of GM’s

U.S. locations. GM has said the community open house is a way to reach out and thank the public for its support.

The Lockport plant and the community have always had a great relationship, said Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker, a retiree with 30 years of experience at the facility.

“They’ve always been fair to the city, we’ve been there for them, they’ve been there for us,” Tucker said. “It’s been an important part of the city.”

The automotive industry has had ties to Lockport since 1910, with the beginning of Harrison Radiator Co. The company would eventually become part of General Motors in 1918, a parts division that would become Delphi in 1995. The Lockport plant went with Delphi when it spun off of GM as a separate company in 1999. However, dark times loomed when Delphi went into bankruptcy in 2005, putting the future of the 1.6-million-square-foot Upper Mountain Road facility in doubt.

GM purchased the Lockport plant from Delphi in October 2009 as part of both companies’ plan to exit Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but Delphi still maintains a technical center on the property. Both companies emerged from bankruptcy shortly thereafter.

The fact that GM chose to purchase the Lockport plant is a great sign said Arthur Wheaton, an automotive industry expert at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Buffalo.

“What speaks well of Lockport is that GM chose the plant,” Wheaton said. “There were many others not seen as core or necessary than that one was.”

Radiators are the main product produced at GMCH, but each year the Lockport plant also pumps out over 1.5 million condensers, 1.6 million evaporators, 2.6 million heater cores, and 1.3 million heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. The plant employs about 1,440 people, including salaried and hourly workers.

Products made in Lockport are then shipped to GM truck plants in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Flint, Mich., as well as plants in Wentzville, Miss.; Oshawa, Ontario; Lordstown and Bowling Green, Ohio; and Fairfax, Kan. The condensers are made for trucks, vans, the Chevy Cruze, Impala, Malibu and Corvette.

Earlier this month GM reported its second quarter earnings of 2011. The company announced income had increased to $2.5 billion, its sixth consecutive profitable quarter.

“I think GM is on the rise,” Wheaton said. “Whether it’ll make millions I’m not sure, but it is better.”

And GM has invested a lot in the Lockport facility, Wheaton said.

“It’s had some rough years, but both Delphi and GM invested a lot in Lockport,” Wheaton said. “The whole complex has a lot of advantages. And when you start investing that much, it’s not easy to throw away.”

Lockport’s work in heating and cooling bodes well for the future, Wheaton said. Because things like air conditioning has a direct impact on fuel economy, something automakers are trying to improve with their vehicles.

Lockport will also be responsible for producing heating and cooling products for two new vehicles, the Chevrolet Sonic and the compact sedan Buick Verano. Neither has reached the dealerships yet.

Another aspect that helps out Lockport is the local labor and management relationship, Wheaton said. The United Auto Workers, Region 9, has been able to work well with local plant management.

“There may have been some rough patches, but overall they’ve been able to work together,” Wheaton said. “Many of the union leaders have moved up.”

One example is Joe Ashton, a former Region 9 director who is now the UAW vice president.

“And he is very familiar with the Lockport plant,” Wheaton said.

GM Components Holdings is a big part of the Lockport community, as seen for example with it’s extensive participation with the United Way. It is also a major piece of the economy, as one of the largest employers in the area.

But the question is, can GM continue to show signs of success?

“GM needs to be in it for the long haul,” Wheaton said. “It needs to justify the government investment, so they’re going to do it right and do it well.”


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