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Area native named to head Tonawanda Engine Plant

The world's largest engine plant has someone new in the driver's seat.

General Motors Corp. has named Steven C. Finch -- an area native who launched his career 30 years ago in Buffalo -- to head the Tonawanda Engine Plant.

Finch is currently head of GM's Flint South engine plant in Michigan. He will replace John Crabtree at Tonawanda on Jan. 2. Crabtree will return to Flint, his home area, the company said.

"After 30 years of being away, I'm looking forward to coming back and renewing old acquaintances and being a part of General Motors' success in the Buffalo area," Finch said in a statement.

GM calls the sprawling factory on River Road its largest engine plant, and the world's. The 133-acre complex produces more than 1 million motors a year, powering everything from Saturns to Hummers.

"Whoever they send, we look forward to working with them," said Peter Masich, president of United Auto Workers Local 774 at Tonawanda.

The union and plant management share the same goal, he said -- attracting new products to keep workers busy.

"Just because a product line is ending doesn't automatically mean you get the successor to that," Masich said.

Finch arrives as the 1,900-job plant competes for an undisclosed new engine line and $300 million in corporate investment.

The site has won local tax breaks to help attract the investment to Tonawanda -- thought to be for a diesel that may be produced in 2009. The Erie County Industrial Development Agency approved nearly $8 million in incentives earlier this month. The tax breaks are contingent on GM producing the engine here.

Tonawanda makes a four-cylinder "Ecotec" engine for small cars like the Saturn Ion; inline 4- and 5-cylinder engines for compact pickup trucks and the Hummer H3, and a V-6 that powers sedans like the Pontiac G6. It also makes a big 8.1 liter V-8 that sold mainly for marine and industrial uses.

Part of GM's Powertrain Division, the Tonawanda plant will have about 1,900 jobs in January, once early retirement and severance incentives have run their course, spokeswoman Mary Ann Brown said. The Flint South plant Finch headed previously has about 600 workers.

Finch started with GM as a student "co-op" worker in 1976 at what was then the Chevrolet Gear & Axle Plant in Buffalo, the company said.

He graduated from General Motors Institute in Flint, now called Kettering University, in 1981 with a degree in electrical engineering.

Since then he has held a number of manufacturing management jobs in GM's Truck & Bus Group and Metal Fabrication Division in Michigan. He was named plant manager at Flint South in April, 2005.

The announcement of Finch's appointment at Tonawanda was made to employees Thursday. Outgoing manager John Crabtree said he was proud of the work force's accomplishments. Crabtree has been plant manager at Tonawanda since April 2005.

"GM lost many customers because our quality was not as good as our competitors," he said in a printed internal announcement. "But we are on the right track now and will win them back by continuously improving our quality, as you have done and continue to do here at Tonawanda."

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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