Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Chrysler to close testing facility, shut down shift

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

As part of the recently ratified labor agreement with the UAW, the Chrysler Group announced it would close the Sterling Heights Vehicle Test Center on Metropolitan Parkway.

“It is listed for sale for $7 million,” said Chrysler spokesman Dave Elshoff.

He said that the site, listed as an industrial warehouse, was one of four facilities named for closure under the recently ratified UAW contract. The other facilities slated to close are located in Windsor, in Detroit on Mound and and Van Dyke, and in Plymouth.

The 20 employees at the testing facility site, who are covered under a UAW contract, will be reassigned.

Chrysler announced Nov. 1 that it would eliminate the second shift at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant during the first quarter of 2008. The Avenger and Sebring are built there.

“We have to move now to adjust the way our company looks and acts to reflect a smaller market,” said Tom LaSorda, vice chairman and president of the Chrysler Group. “That means a cost base that is right-sized and an appropriate level of plant utilization.”

This move will result in a reduction of 1,100 jobs at the SHAP, Elshoff said.

“We are sorry to see it close, but the impact is minimal” on the tax rolls, Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool said of the testing facility. He noted that over the past few years, the carmaker has invested $300 million in facilities in the city.

“Chrysler remains committed to the city,” he said.

Chrysler announced plans to invest $38 million for new assembly lines at the Sterling Heights Stamping and Assembly Plants. The City Council recently approved a seven-year, $211,148 tax abatement in support of an $11.25 million distribution facility in the city — a move that will bring 99 jobs.

Vanderpool said that while the city couldn’t control the economic factors that spurred the elimination of the second shift at SHAP, and he feels bad for families that will be affected by the job cuts, 4,000 employees will remain employed at Chrysler in Sterling Heights.

“The economic spin-off on the city is enormous,” he said, adding that Chrysler officials confirmed Nov. 1 that the company was moving forward on the planned investments in city facilities. “The long-term viability is preserved.”

Vanderpool said that Chrysler officials told him that a number of the 1,100 jobs cut will be by attrition and voluntary. “They’re not closing the facility (SHAP). Hopefully, this will pave the way for the second-shift to return,” he said.

City Assessor Matt Schmidt said that total city taxes that the Test Center paid to the city — $26,300 — is less than 1 percent of the total $2.9 million in taxes that Chrysler pays the city on the manufacturing facilities located here.

The value of the 154,224-square-foot test center — valued at just under $5 million with a taxable value of $2.28 million — has not decreased, Schmidt said.

He explained that there was hardly any personal property in the facility, so closing it wouldn’t affect value.

Based on real and personal property, Sterling Heights has the second-highest state equalized value, or assessed property value, in the state, recently edging out Troy for the number two spot, second to Detroit.

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