published Friday, September 16th, 2011

Mayors press GM in Spring Hill plea

NASHVILLE — The mayors of communities near General Motors’ Spring Hill plant traveled to Detroit this week to lobby the automaker to boost production at the site.

More than 2,000 workers were idled at the plant south of Nashville when it stopped making the Chevrolet Traverse in 2009. But it has continued to build engines, and GM last year announced a nearly $500 million investment to manufacture the next generation of the company’s Ecotec engine at the complex.

Spring Hill Mayor Mike Dinwiddie said in an email that the officials would be meeting GM officials Thursday afternoon to make a case for the plant, which turned out more than 3.7 million Saturn cars between 1990 and 2007 before undergoing an overhaul and turning to other production.

“We consider it extremely important to support the residents we represent by taking every opportunity to lobby for new jobs,” Dinwiddie said.

Dinwiddie said the Tennessee delegation had no role in ongoing contract talks between GM and the United Auto Workers, though he said the Spring Hill plant could and should play a factor in those negotiations.

Members of the of UAW Local 1853 in Spring Hill remain hopeful, chairman Mike Herron told The Tennessean newspaper.

“I hope Spring Hill will get some good news out of the negotiations, but that’s all I can say about that right now,” said Herron.

Nashville Tug of War

After the 17-year-old production run on Saturn vehicles, the plant underwent an overhaul costing more than $600 million that retooled the plant to build the Traverse crossover. That came only after then-Gov. Phil Bredesen persuaded lawmakers to approve new a 7 percent tax break on industrial machinery upgrades of at least $500 million.

After Traverse production was relocated to Lansing, Mich., Spring Hill was named as one of three finalists to build the new Chevrolet Sonic, but lost out to Orion Township in Michigan.

Bredesen, a Democrat, complained at the time that the automaker would not entertain offers of further tax breaks as an incentive, instead calling for up-front payments of hundreds of millions of dollars to choose the Tennessee plant over the others in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who took office in January, has said he wants to standardize Tennessee’s incentives offers, but that approach has not yet been completed.

The Bredesen administration landed other high profile automotive deals through its aggressive corporate tax incentives, including a Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga and the relocation of Nissan Motor Corp.’s North American headquarters from California to suburban Nashville in 2006.

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