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Local GM plant contends for new products
Factory seeks to make new V-6, V-8 engines

General Motors' Town of Tonawanda engine plant is competing for another new engine line, beyond the project that was announced last month.

Kim Carpenter, a GM spokeswoman, said the company is considering the River Road plant as a possible site for planned new V-6 and V-8 engines. The company has been in contact with local economic development officials to discuss what support might be available.

Carpenter said she did not know the dollar amount of the potential investment, or when a decision might be made.

If the Tonawanda plant manages to win the work, it would be another dose of good news for a site that suffered layoffs last year amid a slumping new-car market and the phaseout of two older engine lines.

In February, GM announced a $425 million planned investment in the Tonawanda plant to produce GM's new-generation, four-cylinder Ecotec engine. GM estimates the new line will create 470 jobs, and production is expected to begin in 2012.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency has assisted GM Tonawanda with past projects through incentives to help the plant win GM's internal competition over where to put a new investment.

Al Culliton, ECIDA's chief operating officer, said the automaker has received strong local support for its past projects, and has benefited from good management-labor cooperation at the plant.

Culliton said he couldn't predict whether the Tonawanda site might be able to secure the planned V-6 and V-8 engines, but he said such an investment -- coupled with the $425 million investment already announced -- would provide a solid boost for a work force that has shrunk over time.

Attracting new work for the Tonawanda plant as older engines are phased out is especially important for keeping
the site viable, given its location outside of GM's main manufacturing corridor in the Midwest, Culliton said.

"If it doesn't stay operating at a very high utilization rate, it's threatened very quickly," he said.

Officials with United Auto Workers Local 774 could not be reached to comment on efforts to win the new work.

Carpenter said incentives were just one factor the automaker would consider in its decision, along with factors such as the supplier base and work force productivity.

The Tonawanda plant has 651 hourly and salaried employees, and is preparing to bring back additional workers next month from volume-related layoffs.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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