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Finding A New Use For Closed Auto Plants

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Chrysler Group Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Chrysler Group Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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FLINT (WWJ/AP) – Some new research could help communities that are trying to find new uses for closed auto plants.

The Center for Auto Research study takes a look at the 267 domestically owned auto industry plants that have been closed in the past thirty years. In only about half of the cases, have local communities found a new use for the plant.

The study’s author, Valerie Brugeman, says communities that worked together to find innovative solutions were much more likely to be successful in finding a new use for the plant.

“It involves engaging the community in meetings, hearing their concerns, hearing their ideas for the sites, so the community feels they are being listened to,” she said

In most cases, the auto plants have been turned into other industrial sites. There are some unique cases where former auto factories have become high schools. In other cases, they’ve been turned into residential areas.

Brugeman says it often depends on the character of the community, as some communities have changed over the years the auto plants were open.

In just about all of the cases, the new site didn’t employ as many people as once worked at auto plant.

Jay Williams, who leads the Obama Administrations efforts to help auto communities said he will take the information back to Washington, and use it to help find new uses for auto plants.

The study shows, Williams says, that one size doesn’t fit all

“There’s a unique set of circumstances that these communities face,” he said. “This isn’t the same.”

The study was released in Flint, a city that has been hit harder than most by plant closings.

“I grew up in a city that had 80 thousand jobs at General Motors,” said Kristin Dziczek, who heads the labor and manufacturing sector of the Center for Auto Research. “It now has about 8 thousand General Motors jobs.”

Dziczek says being a Flint native helps her understand how difficult the recovery task is.

“I saw all of these plants closed,” she said. “I saw them get leveled. I have a brick from Fisher Body.”

Another finding of the study is that cities like Flint, which have a number of closed auto sites have a tougher time reusing those sites than cities that only had one plant close. Forty per cent of plants in the Midwest have found a new use. In some parts of the sunbelt, communities have found new uses for all closed auto plants.

Jay Williams says the database developed by the researchers will help communities that are trying to find a new use for closed auto plants.

“While we’ve seen recovery in the industry itself, the communities in which these facilities were based still have a ways to go,” he said. “There’s still a long road to recovery.”

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles
Twitter: @jefferygilbert

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