A Poorly-Driven Decision

If GM closes five North American plants, how will their towns bounce back?

Development International News
As General Motors gets set to close five plants across the U.S. and Canada next year, several cities must grapple with how to move forward. Shown here: GM Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio (Courtesy General Motors)
As General Motors gets set to close five plants across the U.S. and Canada next year, several cities must grapple with how to move forward. Shown here: GM Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio (Courtesy General Motors)

Last week, General Motors announced its intention to cut 14,000 jobs and close five of its North American plants in 2019. The automaker made the decision as part of a company-wide “global restructuring” process that will trim costs, though many consider the move to be part of an effort to enhance production in Mexico. As GM aims to save $6 billion by the end of 2020, five separate cities are about to experience a major shift in their local economies and take on newly-barren industrial landscapes.

The plants expected to turn idle early next year include three factories: the Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio; the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit; and the Oshawa Assembly in Ontario, Canada. Two transmission plants will also cease operations including one in White Marsh, Maryland, and another in Warren, Michigan. As the company only has 35 facilities in the U.S., this hit will be felt at the national level, but even more so in the small- to mid-size towns where many of these facilities have boosted jobs for decades or longer. 

The Oshawa plant came online in 1907 while the one in Warren, Michigan, opened in 1941. The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, which began production in 1985, received local, state, and federal subsidies to open its doors and completely altered the city of Detroit. Jalopnik recounted the tragic story of GM’s move to the Motor City where the Detroit-Hamtramck facility’s initial development cleared 465 acres containing 1,300 homes, stores, churches, and hospitals in a Polish immigrant-neighborhood called Poletown.

General Motors Detroit Hamtramck Plant

Detroit resident Evetta Osborne, (right), works side by side with her daughter, Monique Watson, at General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant where the two have installed the lithium-ion battery pack on nearly every Chevrolet Volt, Opel Ampera, Holden Volt, and Cadillac ELR since production began. (Photo and caption courtesy General Motors)

The youngest factory on the list, GM Baltimore Operations in White Marsh, opened in 2000. A $245 million structure was built next door just six years ago, adding 110,500 square feet to the existing 471,000-square-foot facility. According to the Baltimore Sun, it was the first electric motor production facility operated by a major U.S. automaker. The project was subsidized by a $106 million U.S. Department of Energy grant.

Though former GM leadership wasn’t aware that less than a decade later this massive investment would go idle, the company’s sudden decision to shut down some of its oldest and newest facilities, begs the question: How will these towns bounce back?

General Motors Warren Transmission Operations (Jeffrey Sauger)

General Motors Warren Transmission Operations (Jeffrey Sauger)

Some larger cities like Atlanta and New York have managed to reuse large, vacant industrial spaces, but it remains to be seen whether these smaller towns with shuttering GM facilities can pull that off given they don’t have the population demand or the financial resources.

As these locales transition over the next year, they’ll be forced to begin considering just how long these sites will remain unoccupied. Since opening, they’ve served as homes away from home for thousands of autoworkers who’ve helped bring steady money to their respective local economies. The closure of these plants, along with the millions of invested dollars that GM, the federal government, and these towns have made within the last 100 years, will come at a huge cost. 

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