Western New York’s manufacturing heart got a welcome jolt Wednesday with word of two enormous investments: Nearly $400 million will be injected into the region’s automotive industry over the coming years.
These are winning days for Western New York.
The biggest of the investments is the $295 million General Motors is committing to its engine plant in the Town of Tonawanda. The money is follow-through on the company’s promise to make upgrades to the plant once successful negotiations with the United Auto Workers were completed.
GM will also pour $31.98 million into its component plant in Lockport, and yet another $5.9 million in its Rochester plant. It’s a significant moment for the plant and for the Buffalo area, and it’s not the only good news.
Sumitomo Rubber USA will invest $87 million in its tire manufacturing plant, also in the Town of Tonawanda.
GM’s investment will create several dozen new jobs. But more important, it will retain about 1,200 jobs that had been in danger of leaving town. Chuck Herr of United Auto Workers 774 told workers the deal “is going to help secure our future.”
That’s the critical thing. Any new jobs will be cheerfully accepted, of course, but given the economic roller coaster that the auto industry has ridden in recent years – and decades – this investment is heartening. It signals that GM expects to be here for many years to come.
Meanwhile, Sumitomo, the Japanese tire marker, plans to upgrade and enlarge the 93-year-old tire plant that it formerly co-owned with Goodyear. Once that four-year program is completed, the plant’s daily output will rise to 17,000 tires from today’s 10,000, while adding to the 1,300 jobs already there. That plant’s future was in doubt only a few years ago.
The investment is expected to help Sumitomo make good on its plan to expand in the American market with its lesser-known Falken brand of tires. In addition, and especially intriguing, the company wants to open a research and development center in the United States.
“We’re developing the capability to do that here,” said Tim Noe, Sumitomo Rubber’s senior vice president of manufacturing. That could help secure the plant for generations to come.
These investments come at a pivotal moment for Buffalo. The city is on the rise and it is important to maintain momentum. The investments by GM and Sumitomo do that. It’s a credit not only to the fact that these plants are already located here, but to the skill and commitment of the area workforce.
These aren’t the only recent investments here by GM. In 2010, the company committed $825 million to the Tonawanda plant to support two new engine lines. It also invested a total of $44 million in the Lockport operation in 2012 and 2013.
GM was in bankruptcy in 2009 and had long struggled with costs it couldn’t afford and cars that not enough people wanted to buy. Today, things are changing.
After painful negotiations with the UAW, the company is on more secure financial footing. And in October, Buick – a GM product – became the first domestic line in more than three decades to place in the top three in Consumer Reports magazine’s annual rankings for automobile reliability. That’s good news for GM and good news for Buffalo, too.
These investments are a reaffirmation of Buffalo’s place in manufacturing. Just as this region is about to embark on a high-tech venture in the still nascent solar panel industry, its legacy sector of car-making has been given renewed vitality. The pistons are roaring to life.