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An abandoned General Motors automotive assembly plant near Dayton, Ohio, will soon become home to Fuyao Auto Glass, a Chinese windshield maker. (AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese Company Brings Hope To Former GM Workers In Ohio

Jan 28, 2014 (All Things Considered / WYSO-FM)

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Former GM employee Kate Geiger says making cars is in her genes, and when she heard about the new glass factory, "I think inside I secretly did a little happy dance."

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For years, industrial cities across the U.S. have watched factories pack up and leave, taking their operations to Mexico or China. But here's something relatively new: increasing numbers of Chinese companies are bringing manufacturing to the United States.

Just south of Dayton, Ohio, a Chinese auto-glass maker now plans to open up shop in what used to be a large General Motors truck plant.

The announcement is a big deal for this former factory town.

Death knell, nail in the coffin, final blow. These phrases are often used to describe GM's decision to close the Moraine Assembly plant in 2008.

Former GM employee Kate Geiger describes what followed: "Buildings closed down. Parking lots growing up with weeds. For sale signs. You know there's a McDonald's that been closed for 20 years and they've never done anything with it."

Geiger works as a graphic designer now—and here in her office you can actually see the corner of the mostly empty GM plant through the window.

But, at a recent news conference, Ohio Gov. John Kasich introduced Fuyao Auto Glass, China's biggest windshield maker, which announced it will purchase about 1.4 million square feet of the former GM facility.

"We're now beginning to see some really good news for the Dayton area," Kasich said.

David Burrows with the Dayton Development Coalition says the deal brings with it at least 800 jobs. That makes it the biggest Chinese investment ever in Ohio, though it took millions in subsidies to attract it. State officials hope this becomes a trend.

Giorgio Rizzoni, with the Center for Automotive Research in Columbus, says, "What has happened in the last five or six years, is actually marking a profound change.

"Every 2 or 3 months or so there is an announcement of company X is reopening manufacturing plant A in Michigan or in Ohio," Rizzoni says.

It's simple math, really: production costs are going up in China, and down here. That's in part because U.S. workers are more productive—and because auto industry wages have dropped since the recession.

But Ohio's still playing catch-up: In the last decade the Dayton area alone lost 40,000 manufacturing jobs.

So there are workers to spare here — and a lot of nostalgia for building cars.

Kate Geiger, the former GM worker says she's considering applying for a job at the new glass plant "because I love ... I love being a forklift operator and I miss that work.

Geiger knows she'd take a pay cut. But she says making cars is in her genes, and when she heard about the glass factory, "I think inside I secretly did a little happy dance. You know ..., I hate seeing the building deteriorate. So I'm really glad that somebody's going to move in and take care of it. I thought they were gonna bulldoze it."

She can just see the shiny new windshields rolling out of Fuyao shipped off to assembly lines for Honda, Kia and — who else — GM.

Copyright 2014 WYSO-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wyso.org.

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