GM, Delphi cutbacks stagger Flint, Mich.
By Brian Charlton
By Brian Charlton
FLINT, Mich. — James Rutherford has lived here his entire life, in good times and in bad. The former mayor and police chief, now the director of the Flint Downtown Development Authority, says he doesn't expect the city — once synonymous with automobile manufacturing — will ever again be a thriving industrial center.
"I don't think anyone else believes that we'll ever have major manufacturing in the city of Flint again," he said last week. "We've just about hit bottom."
General Motors Corp. and Delphi Corp., GM's former parts operation and now a separate company, announced June 26 that 47,600 of their employees — including 35,000 from GM — had agreed to take early retirement or buyout offers.
Among them were more than 3,100 of the 10,400 hourly workers in Genesee County's seven GM plants and another 1,500 of the 2,600 active workers at Delphi Flint East, the parts company's lone remaining plant in the Flint area.
The prospect of losing thousands of local good-paying jobs is "very traumatic for the whole area," said Russ Reynolds, president of United Auto Workers Local 651, which represents production workers at Delphi Flint East.
"There's a lot of sadness because this has been a good place to work for many, many years, and most of the people that work here live in this community," Reynolds said. "There's a lot of people here affected, not only at our site but in the community."
GM employed 80,000 workers in the Flint area in the late 1970s, but tens of thousands of the jobs have since been sent overseas, contracted out to other companies or simply eliminated. The city's plight gained notoriety after Michael Moore's 1989 film "Roger & Me," which shows Moore pursuing former GM boss Roger Smith to confront him about laying off 33,000 autoworkers in Flint.
As a result, other local factories and retail shops have closed. The unemployment rate in Flint, a city of 120,000 residents, rose to 7.3 percent in May, the highest of any city in Michigan.
Kirby Blankenship, a carpenter who has worked at the GM Flint Metal Center for 15 years, said he and his co-workers are concerned about their jobs and pensions but realize the importance of the restructuring efforts.
"Everyone is a little nervous, but I think everyone knows it's a necessary step," he said.
Mike Tessmer said business is down 30 percent at Timothy's Pub, his bar and restaurant near the Delphi Flint East plant. In the two years he has owned the establishment, Tessmer has had to reduce his staff from 14 employees to seven because fewer customers are coming in at lunchtime and after work.
"The mood around here is just very depressing," he said. "They aren't working. They're kind of staying home and moping and saving money."
As Gary Lee waited to meet a friend outside Tom's Coney Island, another eatery near the factory, he said he believes the area's future rests with its institutions of higher learning. They include Kettering University, the University of Michigan-Flint and Mott Community College.
"I think the next generation will turn out some pretty talented people, and it won't be long until national businesses and even international businesses realize what we have here," said Lee, a salesman who lives in Holly, about 10 miles south of Flint.
Despite his pessimism about Flint's possible resurgence as a major industrial city, Rutherford, who was mayor from 1975 through 1983 during the city's industrial heyday, said many good things are happening downtown.
There are still a number of boarded-up storefronts with overgrown weeds on their lots, but economic development officials are working hard to attract new businesses to the city. Many abandoned homes have been razed and larger buildings are being renovated into apartments and condominiums, he said.
"The downtown area is going to be booming," Rutherford said.